I would like to take issue with the allegations relating to the role of Northumberland Estates in the local community in the letter by Rob Jewitt (Northumberland Gazette, January 3).
Contrary to common belief, Northumberland Estates owns little retail property in Alnwick town centre, just a couple of properties near to the castle at the far end of Narrowgate.
The businesses that do operate in the town centre, however, require a thriving local economy if they are to generate the funds necessary for long-term success.
As the biggest private sector investor in north Northumberland, we offer much in terms of support, as well as employing around 200 full and part-time staff on the estate in the North East and over 100 seasonal staff at Alnwick Castle alone.
It would appear that the main gripe is about property development, yet our investment in the construction of industrial, retail and business premises is essential to job creation and economic growth in the area.
This covers everything from start-up businesses at the enterprise hubs to small-scale industrial units at Lionheart and offices at Cawledge.
It supports services and local businesses, enabling them to grow and prosper. It is this growth that creates the new and higher paid career opportunities desired.
Having the long-term commitment and vision to achieve this goal is the type of approach that attracts national retailers, even in times of change in the high street.
The new Marks & Spencer store, which he dismisses despite widespread community support for the project, will provide an improved retail offer and attract people to the town, as well as create jobs.
It also supports existing businesses, such as Turnbull’s in their ambition to expand, while encouraging long-term employers, such as Archinova and House of Hardy, to remain in the town.
Any long-term strategy requires investment, not only in premises, but also infrastructure – roads, housing and schools.
Northumberland Estates gave the site upon which the new Duchess’s High School sits, without which the project could not have gone ahead.
We have for many years supported improved education facilities within the county, and sponsored the Northumberland Church of England Academy in Ashington, a failing school which, in new premises and under new leadership, is going from strength to strength.
The letter lacks any perspective in relation to housing. The requirement for new housing is set by national and county council requirements in response to well publicised need. Only around five per cent of the county’s requirement will be met from Northumberland Estates land.
Perhaps the author is lucky enough to own his own home. However, without new housing many younger people and families will find access to the housing market increasingly difficult and the pattern of an ageing population will increase, exacerbating a situation which is acute in north Northumberland.
Thriving communities require all types of housing and Northumberland Estates is supportive of this. It is also one of the few property developers to exceed affordable housing targets, Lesbury being one example where 50 per cent of a small current development is for affordable homes where the official requirement is just 15 per cent.
We are also investing in elderly living accommodation to allow people to remain in their own communities, supported by friends and family.
Visitors to Alnwick Castle and The Alnwick Garden are estimated to contribute in excess of £50million per annum to the local economy, and a significant proportion of this is spent within the town, as well as in B&Bs, caravan parks, pubs and restaurants in the area.
Our ticketing arrangements actively encourage visitors to go into the town.
Tourism is vital to the area and with this in mind the Estates has recently invested in the old railway station, home to Barter Books, with a view to further improving the town’s tourism offer and supporting an industry which provides many local jobs.
The Estates is also responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of over 120 listed buildings and monuments. Without some of these, Alnwick would not be the place so many wish to visit. Investment in heritage properties requires significant spending each year by the Estates, and provides employment to building trades and skilled local craftsmen.
This is in addition to recent restoration projects, such as the old hydro-electric system on the River Aln and conservation of the Capability Brown designed parkland surrounding Alnwick.
Community investment by Northumberland Estates takes many forms, ranging from financial support for renovations at Alnwick Playhouse to land for the new bike track. Alnwick Town and Alnwick Juniors have received grant funding over many years, as have community projects such as the Aln Valley Railway, Alnwick Christmas Lights, local sports groups, local charities, Lionheart Radio, many village halls and various churches.
The Estates also invests in conservation and the environment, with an annual spend on tree and hedge planting in excess of £100,000. In addition, much of our in-hand land is farmed within conservation schemes and has contributed greatly to a dramatic rise in wild farmland birds, brown hares and other species in recent years, as proven by surveys carried out by local wildlife groups.
Financial support goes annually to conservation groups such as the Wildlife Trusts, Red Squirrel conservation and Atlantic Salmon Trust, while other projects supported include rescue hedgehogs being released on the Estate by a local sanctuary and financial contribution to the Countryside Trust, which promotes rural education and rural development initiatives.
The suggestion that access to Hulne Park is being increasingly restricted is unfounded. The park is now open to visitors over 300 days a year and the Estates has created a network of waymarked footpaths within the park, as well as in the wider locality, opening Estates land and surrounding countryside to the public.
The letter concludes: ‘Alnwick and north Northumberland have a fantastic environment and history, but need to provide a wider range of economic opportunities and facilities to encourage young people and creative talent to stick around.’
We agree, but if we remain static, where will these economic opportunities come from?
The Estates has a strong track record of investing in the area and its communities and will continue to do so as investment is essential if this rural area, our towns, villages and the countryside we all value are to thrive.
Agent at Northumberland Estates