3 April 2014

Inspirational project could contribute millions to regional economy

An independent report* highlighting the economic benefits of The Sill, the £11.7m National Landscape Discovery Centre planned in Northumberland National Park, has revealed it could support the creation of around 120 new jobs and contribute almost £5m in visitor spending to the North East economy per annum – and provide a unique training and education facility for future generations.

The report found that once fully operational the new Sill landscape training and discovery centre could receive 100,000 visitors a year, contribute £4.95m pa to the regional tourism economy which equates to a net impact of almost £3m to the region, as well as generating upwards of 117 jobs. It estimates that the additional jobs and income will be supported through extra spending at the site and in the wider economy, attracting more visitors to the National Park and North East as a whole and encouraging them to stay longer and spend more.

 Artist's impression of The Sill landscape discovery centre.

*The job creation figures included in this release are taken directly from an economic impact study of The Sill undertaken by independent consultants. The study methodology is consistent with HM Treasury Green Book guidelines, which provide the national Government benchmark standard for studies of this type.

As part of its core offer, The Sill will also be a leading facility for education and training, providing a year-round base to operate out of. The report strongly encompasses the wider benefits of The Sill, including its contributions to education, enterprise and the environment. It predicts 23,000 formal learning opportunities created pa for school, higher and further education students, a Rural Growth Hub to support the development of 10 to 20 micro and rural enterprises, superfast broadband to a deep rural area and 80 per cent of its energy needs generated through renewable energy facilities. 1,200 volunteer days are estimated to be supported by 2016, delivering wide-ranging benefits to local communities across the National Park.

After a year into the development phase of the project, which has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the updated Economic Impact Assessment report 2014, was commissioned by lead partners Northumberland National Park Authority and Youth Hostels Association (England and Wales), to take into consideration the significant levels of public consultation, local business involvement in the initiative and the new building design.

The National Landscape Discovery Centre will be located at the easy-to-access Once Brewed, the site of the current National Park Centre at the heart of the Hadrian's Wall World Heritage Site in Northumberland National Park and Northumberland International Dark Sky Park – one of the Europe's most prized natural landscapes.

The Sill's Project Director, Stuart Evans, stated: "Northumberland's rural economy is based on two key business sectors – tourism and agricultural. The Sill will provide a hub for local businesses and state-of-the-art training and education, drawing universities and schools from across the country. The Sill will enable the current generation and future generations to make better living from managing the countryside and studying landscape management in an inspiring setting. The tourism offer is of international appeal – Europe's only gold status Dark Sky Park and the internationally renowned Hadrian's Wall World Heritage Site – and the attraction of The Sill will be all year round."

The direct benefit to rural business is supported by Antony Braithwaite, the North East's rural advocate. Antony commented: "Our job is to promote economic growth and new jobs in the rural North East, and encouraging business in the Uplands is a huge part. The Sill provides an innovation centre and training in modern uplands management – moorland management, water quality improvement, forestry etc. It is an exciting project aimed at a sustainable future for our beautiful uplands and all who live and work there."

Predicting a significant boost to the tourism industry in the North East, investment in The Sill is critical to the future success, rural businesses in Northumberland and safeguarding one of the most unspoilt areas in the country. With the key aim of generating business across the whole of the North East, the report estimates that the majority of new jobs would be supported in the local and regional economies through additional visitor spend. The fundraising effort to help make this inspiring project a reality is being spearheaded through a new Northumberland National Park charitable foundation.

Tony Gates, Chief Executive of Northumberland National Park Authority and Northumberland Tourism Board Member, said: "Tourism makes up a significant proportion of the region's economy and the evidence supports its potential to contribute even more. The release of this independent report highlighting the vast economic benefits of The Sill is a great confidence boost for what would be a nationally significant project. The Sill will help Northumberland achieve its target of 6% growth in the visitor economy, something we are working closely on with Northumberland County Council and other tourism sector partners.

"Recent reports may have suggested that the future funding of The Sill is uncertain but we want to remind people that we are making great progress and this is the last push to raise funds needed to make the project a reality.

"The Sill has the potential to create huge dividends for the North East economy, rural businesses and the communities at the heart of Northumberland. It will be a focal point for the understanding and enjoyment of our natural environment and will be a great resource for young people to discover their countryside. We are encouraged by the support we have already received from the Heritage Lottery Fund which has pledged nearly 60% of the costs. The National Park Authority and YHA are investing a further £1m. In order to realise the project ambition we need to secure £3.5m of matched funding. As a partnership project, we are working closely with other organisations and the establishment of a charitable foundation is a positive step forward toward achieving our vision for The Sill. We recognise there's still a long way to go, and to make this vision a reality, we need everyone to get behind the project."

As part of the development of the 2014 Economic Impact Assessment report, consultants from New Skills Consulting carried out interviews with 20 local businesses and attractions, to gather their views on the project and estimates regarding its impact on their organisation and the wider supply chain.

John Hartshorne is a co-founder of Albion Outdoors, specialists in outdoor education and biological fieldwork for school groups across Northumberland. Explaining some of the key benefits of The Sill project for his business, he commented: "As well as consultation events, during the development phase of the project, we have been actively involved in the design of The Sill's activity plan, as well as the delivery of some of the pilot activities. Last year alone we delivered over 800 student-days of training and injected £10,000 into the local economy through accommodation for school and university groups.

 "Our plans to expand incorporate a partnership with The Sill and we anticipate that through this our business will directly benefit from increased publicity, leading to the creation of an additional full-time post and a doubling in our turnover and participant activity days each year. This growth would be in fieldwork and other activities including archery, forest school and first-aid training, much of which could be delivered through The Sill.

"We consider The Sill to be a very positive development. Where our business is concerned, we anticipate our expansion would have a positive impact on the wider supply chain, in particular working with local accommodation providers to facilitate overnight stays for fieldwork courses around the National Park."

The Sill's aim, to bring a boost to tourism, chimes with the views of Lord de Mauley, Minister for Science and Natural Environment, who, speaking as part of the National Tourism Week, said:"Our national parks are some of the most treasured places in England, contributing £4 billion to building a stronger rural economy and attracting around 90 million visitors each year. I'd like to encourage everyone to visit our national parks and enjoy our most beautiful landscapes."

Caroline White, Chief Executive of Youth Hostels Association (England and Wales), said: "Without investment in The Sill, the current youth hostel at Once Brewed would be forced to close in just a couple of years meaning many young people would miss out on the amazing life and educational experiences that YHA is able to provide .

"As a charity dedicated to educating and inspiring young people, The Sill reflects YHA's core values and represents a significant opportunity to create the next generation of custodians of our countryside. We are excited to part of this bold initiative and making the North East become the location for England's first landscape discovery centre."

The development phase of The Sill project has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). Northumberland National Park Authority and YHA are seeking to secure an additional £3.5million in funding for the full project costs and to make their vision for The Sill a reality, the project needs your support. You can support The Sill by volunteering, attending one of the project's consultation events or making a donation towards the £3.5million target.

For more information about The Sill project, visit www.thesill.org.uk, find The Sill on Facebook or follow The Sill on Twitter @thesillproject

For more information, click the link below: 

Executive Summary Economic Impact Assessment 2014

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