Council puts £8.5m loan to Alnwick Garden on hold

The Duchess of Northumberland and Northumberland County Council's chief executive have spoken about plans for a new attraction at The Alnwick Garden and a proposed £8.5million loan.

Friday, 3rd March 2017, 7:32 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 9:41 am
An artist's impression of the proposed Lilidorei play village at the Alnwick Garden.

Plans for ‘a ground-breaking play village, with the largest play structure in the world’ for a site north of the Treehouse have been submitted, backed by a proposed loan from the authority.

It sparked a major backlash and in the face of opposition at last week’s meeting to discuss the budget, council leader Grant Davey agreed to remove the loan and put it back before the council when a full risk appraisal has been carried out.

On Friday, the Duchess set out her vision for the attraction, while Steve Mason, the council’s chief executive, explained why the administration is supporting the project and how it meets the authority’s goals.

“This is the biggest play structure in the world, no one has built anything on this scale before,” said the Duchess. “We are building something that’s never been done and that’s part of the reason for this not getting out before.”

However, the focus of the concern is not so much the attraction itself, but why the council is proposing to lend the money to build it.

Mr Mason emphasised that the loan will be paid back with interest.

“A key objective of the council is to drive economic development and job creation in Northumberland,” he said. “Tourism is incredibly important, particularly in the rural areas.”

This loan is part of a wider drive – entirely in line with the Government’s policy - to become more commercial, to encourage development and to have an economic strategy.

“We are using our ability to borrow as a council to generate alternative income streams and those are being used to support frontline service delivery,” he said.

As well as the jobs created, the economic benefits of the Lilidorei project include ‘driving the whole of the tourist industry in Alnwick and beyond’, says Mr Mason.

Some still question why the money can’t come from Northumberland Estates. Mr Mason said this ‘missed the point’.

He added: “Tourism is such a vital industry and this will really enhance opportunities. It’s really sad people have misinterpreted what the intention of the council is in doing this.”