Northumberland National Park Authority, YHA (England and Wales) and partners, are celebrating today after plans for The Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre were officially given the green light.
Plans for the £11.2m initiative have passed a significant milestone as the DCLG Planning Casework Team have decided not to call in the application, paving the way for planning consent to be granted as approved by the National Park Authority's Development Management Committee on 18 September.
The plans for the new centre, which is to replace the existing 1960s Once Brewed facilities with a flagship visitor attraction, training and educational centre, were referred by a third party to be determined by the Secretary of State.
Northumberland National Park Authority Chairman Cllr John Riddle, commented: "We are delighted plans for The Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre can now move forward, as the Department for Communities and Local Government have confirmed that the Local Planning Authority can issue the planning approval.
"Receiving confirmation that the Department for Communities and Local Government does not wish to intervene is great news for the project. This backs up the decision taken at local level and demonstrates that the Secretary of State is content for the project to go ahead.
"The long term gains of the project include economic growth and job creation which will offer a step-change benefit for the whole of the North East and then there are the benefits you just cannot put a price on – including the impact the project will have on young people from a training and educational perspective.
"I would like to thank everyone who has supported The Sill project to date and contributed throughout the extensive consultation process, to help shape plans for this exciting new development. We look forward to working with our partners across the county and beyond to help realise the vision for The Sill."
Designs for The Sill were created by Architects' Jane Darbyshire and David Kendall (JDDK), with Glen Kemp commissioned as Landscape Architects and Bright 3D designing the Interpretative space. The rest of the design team is made up of Gardiner & Theobald LLP as Project Managers/QS, Halcrow Group Ltd as Building Services and Sustainability consultants and Patrick Parsons as Civil and Structural Engineers. Cundall have acted as planning consultants throughout the process.
Consultation has played a huge part in a participative design process, with over 1,700 members of the public sharing their ideas and feedback. The resulting Sill design is both sympathetic to the World Heritage Site landscape and forward-thinking in its vision. Its inspirational plans encompass an educational and training facility that will open doors to the landscape, far above and beyond the current offer – including an expansive activity programme covering the whole of the National Park and further afield.
Stuart Evans, Sill Project Director at Northumberland National Park Authority, said: "From the outset, The Sill project has involved the whole community, inviting people to participate and share their thoughts and feedback. We want to create a centre which everyone can be proud of.
"As part of the next stage of development, we want to continue this process and invite anyone who would like to contribute to come forward and help us realise the project's full potential. Working together, we have such a wonderful opportunity through The Sill to compliment and support the excellent tourism offer in our region and open up the landscape to a whole new audience."
The long-term economic benefits of The Sill predict above 100,000 visitors per annum, upwards of 117 new jobs created every year and a net impact of almost £3m to the region.
Local B&B owner Cllr Valerie Gibson, who also sits on The Sill Project Board, spoke in favour of the project. She said: "I am a hill farmer and tourism business operator, having a B&B, holiday cottages and a bunkhouse and I feel The Sill will be of great benefit to tourism and other businesses in the area.
"As a Sill Project Board Member, I have closely scrutinised designs for the building and I think it sits very neatly in the landscape and is attractive to look at. It reflects the natural contours of the landscape and I am pleased that after consultation with local residents, any road safety concerns about the busy Military Road, are being addressed.
"We are fifth generation farmers at Gibbs Hill and without diversification we would not be able to continue. We need more visitors and a longer season. The Sill will be a hub for people to learn about the National Park, its natural beauty and its cultural heritage. People will be encouraged to stay longer and spend more to give a financial boost to the area. The fact that young people will be encouraged to find out more about the countryside is also very important and I wholeheartedly support this exciting new development."
Lead partner in The Sill, YHA (England and Wales) is passionate about taking the project forward. Caroline White, Chief Executive of YHA (England and Wales), said: "We are delighted with that The Sill has been given the green light. 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 team now looks to push on to achieve £3m match funding needed as well as submitting its bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for the remaining £6.9m, with an outcome expected early 2015.
The development phase of The Sill project has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). If you are interested in lending your support to the project or would like to find out more, contact The Sill team on firstname.lastname@example.org