Funding for county AONBs 'is worth it'

Northumberland County Council's contributions to the running of the Northumberland Coast AONB and the North Pennines AONB are set to rise by 10 per cent.

Thursday, 1st July 2021, 3:27 pm
The Northumberland Coast AONB covers 135 sq kms between Berwick and the Coquet estuary. Picture by Gavin Duthie.

But a £62,000 bill to fund Northumberland’s two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is ‘excellent value for money’, according to bosses.

Local authorities are required to supply match funding worth a quarter of overall costs to keep the organisations running.

And although ministers have told local authorities to up their contributions by a tenth this year, leaders in the region insist the financial input is worth it.

“This goes towards the council’s and the government’s green agenda, which is becoming more and more important as time goes on,” said Colin Horncastle, Northumberland County Council’s cabinet member for community services.

“When you get into some of the things where it affects actual people, you’ve got thousands of hours of volunteering, you’ve got rural skills training and it attracts other government grants for specific schemes, which go not just to the AONB, but also directly to landowners and farmers.

“If the councils don’t stump up, (the government) doesn’t stump up.

“So is it value for money? As time goes on, with the green agenda, it’s excellent value for money – for every pound that the local authorities put in, you get many many pounds back.”

Cllr Horncastle was speaking at the Wednesday, June 30 meeting of Northumberland County Council’s Communities and Place Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

The increase will see the county council pay out £37,070 and £24,926 annually for the next three years to cover costs of the Northumberland Coast AONB and the North Pennines AONB, respectively.

Durham County Council, Eden District Council, Carlisle City Council and Cumbria County Council also contribute to payments towards the North Pennines AONB.

Of the total bill for running the AONBs, 75 per cent of the cash needed is provided by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), with extra funding also available from organisations such as the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Green Recovery Challenge Fund.

Council contributions have been frozen for 14 years, which Cllr Eileen Cartie called “not bad at all”, while also arguing extra resources were likely to be needed more than ever to deal with greater interest from tourists and visitors caused by the coronavirus pandemic.