How the pandemic will affect Northumberland's Borderland's projects

The sign at the planned site of the Ad Gefrin distillery and visitor centre in Wooler, one of the projects to be awarded Borderlands funding.The sign at the planned site of the Ad Gefrin distillery and visitor centre in Wooler, one of the projects to be awarded Borderlands funding.
The sign at the planned site of the Ad Gefrin distillery and visitor centre in Wooler, one of the projects to be awarded Borderlands funding.
The Covid-19 pandemic will have a knock-on effect on some of the projects planned as part of the £350million Borderlands deal.

The heads of terms agreement for the Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal was announced last July and confirmed a commitment by the UK and Scottish Governments for the financial package, with £200million to be invested on the English side and £150million in Scotland on a variety of projects over 10 years.

The Borderlands Partnership is a collaboration between the five cross-border local authorities – Carlisle, Cumbria, Dumfries and Galloway, Northumberland and Scottish Borders, which represent 10% of the UK’s land mass and an area larger than Wales.

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It aims to create thousands of new job opportunities, bring millions of extra tourists to the area and unlock investment in towns.

Projects to have been announced so far as part of the deal include the proposed Lillidorei play village at The Alnwick Garden (which previously had a target completion date of Easter 2022) and the Ad Gefrin whisky distillery in Wooler (hoped to open next summer).

In an update newsletter this month, the partnership states: ‘We know that Covid-19 is having a significant impact across our region, on our families, communities and businesses, and is causing both uncertainty and hardship.

‘As we develop our deal, we will need to make some changes to the timing and details of some of our programmes, to reflect the current emergency situation. This will help support the recovery and future development of our economy.’

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It adds: ‘We are reviewing our work so that we consider the impact of Covid-19 and adjust projects accordingly.

‘This may mean that some work is brought forward, as it can quickly and directly support shorter-term recovery. Other work may move to delivery at a later date than originally planned, for example if resource is not immediately available to progress.

‘However, we remain committed to our programme of work and of supporting and developing our region as we recover and move forward from the current emergency.’

Nonetheless, work is continuing and progress still being made, with the newsletter revealing that the £4million Digital Borderlands Voucher Scheme should be launched in Cumbria and Northumberland ‘shortly’, following the submission of the business case for the ‘top-up’ full-fibre broadband project to the UK Government.

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The commissioning process for an Energy Masterplan – ‘the first step in setting out the pathway to a net-carbon-zero region which has green energy at the heart of its economy’ – will start this month and the work be delivered over the next 12 to 18 months.

Andy Dean, the chief executive of Community Action Northumberland, which supports the county’s rural communities, said: “There are some potentially very exciting developments which will emerge from the Borderlands initiative.

“In particular, the Energy Masterplan should provide added momentum – and resource – to the growing number of rural communities in Northumberland that want to reduce their carbon footprint, provide sustainable, cost-efficient energy and create low-carbon employment.”

In November, Northumberland councillors agreed the governance arrangements, which include the county acting as the accountable body for the English side, and to fund the county’s share of the operating costs, after the partnership board agreed an initial annual operating budget of £531,000.

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The newsletter explains that the first phase of the project management office is now established and ‘is well equipped to support the finalisation of our deal and move to delivery’. Programme manager James Davies started in March, having previously worked for the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

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