Plans have been resubmitted for ‘a ground-breaking play village’ at The Alnwick Garden, which is set to boost the town's economy by £7million every year.
The Alnwick Garden Trust has lodged a planning application to Northumberland County Council for Lilidorei Play Village, which will include the largest play structure in the world, based on an enchanted village woodland theme.
The proposed development, for land north of the Treehouse, was first reported by the Gazette in February last year when we revealed that the then Labour administration at County Hall was proposing to provide the scheme with a loan of £8.5million.
The loan proposal sparked a major backlash prompting a defence from the Duchess of Northumberland and the council's then chief executive Steve Mason. The loan was subsequently put on hold and the planning application was later withdrawn, but has now been resubmitted. No financial support is being offered by the local authority this time.
Council leader Peter Jackson said: “While we are not giving any financial support or loans, we are committed to supporting The Alnwick Garden with its scheme, including helping them with any applications for funding they may be considering.”
As well as the play structure, there would be cabins containing a café, a tavern, play and storytelling activities, and a gift shops, as well as a toilets block, a multi-functional Santa’s Grotto, a chapel which can be used for wedding ceremonies and a large, 600-person events venue, which will be set into the ground and covered by a mound.
Mark Brassell, director at The Alnwick Garden Trust, said: "Northumberland is an amazing place to do business and a great place to invest. Lilidorei is a huge vote of confidence in Alnwick and Northumberland, illustrating the robust health of the county economy.
"The Alnwick Garden is a social enterprise and we never lose sight of our passion for benefiting the local community. Better play for children is at the very heart of the Lilidorei proposal, so every Friday local schools will have opportunities to visit for free."
The Garden currently supports the equivalent of 123 full-time jobs while running eight community programmes. The Lilidorei proposals would mean an additional 60 jobs and further opportunities to contribute to the area both economically and socially. The Garden will continue to use its relationships with schools and charities to create new pathways into employment for local people.
Since opening its doors to the public, the Garden has had more than 5.5million visitors, boosting the local economy by £236million, half of which is spent with Northumberland business
suppliers. In 2016, people walked from the attraction to the town 378,000 times, illustrating how important the Garden is to Alnwick's economy.
The aim is that Lilidorei will bring visitors and their spending power to Alnwick all year round, avoiding a quieter period during the winter when the Castle is closed. Maintaining a
truly year-round major tourist and leisure destination will mean more customers in local cafés and shops and more money in local pockets, the Garden says.