Hold put on £8.5m council loan to Alnwick Garden

From the Northumberland Gazette
From the Northumberland Gazette

The proposed £8.5million loan to the Alnwick Garden has been stalled after calls for more information from county councillors.

As revealed by the Gazette a fortnight ago, plans for ‘a ground-breaking play village, with the largest play structure in the world’ for a site north of the Treehouse at The Alnwick Garden have been submitted to Northumberland County Council, backed by a proposed multimillion-pound loan from the authority.

It has sparked a major backlash, being criticised by locals as well as attracting national media attention.

In the face of opposition at today's full meeting of the county council to discuss next year's budget, council and Labour leader Grant Davey agreed to remove the loan from next year's spending plan and put it back before the council when a full risk appraisal has been carried out.

Alnwick's Coun Gordon Castle had moved an amendment removing it from the budget, citing a number of questions which need to be answered. "The Alnwick Garden project sounds like a wonderful idea," he added. "That's one thing; another thing is how it's funded."

Coun Steven Bridgett seconded the motion, saying: "The Duchess of Northumberland must be commended for her vision. But why is it that we as a council should be providing this loan?" He added that he could not support any loan for an organisation that uses zero-hours contracts, adding he had been contacted by former employees on these issues.

Alnwick's other councillor, Heather Cairns, said: "Undoubtedly the Garden is a success, undoubtedly the Duchess is an ambassador for Northumberland, undoubtedly this attraction will bring further footfall to the Garden, but what will it do for the people of Alnwick?"

Coun Davey agreed to back down, but was clear in his support for the project. "This is a world-class theme park and we can get in at the start of something that's huge for Alnwick," he said. "It could stand alone anywhere in the world, but the Alnwick Garden Trust wishes to have it in Alnwick and they came to us and said it would create 48 jobs.

"There seems to be a whipping-up of hatred of rich people. It's an opportunity to boost jobs and the economy like all of our projects."