As chairman of the Alnwick Tourism Association, I must try to rebalance the criticism of the proposed loan by Northumberland County Council to Alnwick Garden for the Play Village.
I cannot over-emphasise how important Alnwick Garden and tourism is to Alnwick and Northumberland.
Northumberland County Council has a duty to govern, and part of that is the creation of jobs and the sustainability of existing employment.
The council executive agreed a loan with the Alnwick Garden for the next phase of its development, a Play Village. Apparently, this would create an environment in which visitors would have a reason to visit Alnwick for at least two days.
The loan would be affordable to the council as it will have more than enough in reserves to cover it, and it was to be a loan, not a grant. A loan is paid back with interest so we as taxpayers would actually benefit.
Heather Cairns, an Alnwick councillor, seemed to question what the Alnwick Garden does for Alnwick. As a tourism provider, with a network of over 100 businesses directly involved in tourism, I can say that the Garden has a major impact on the town and all of Northumberland.
Simply put, a visitor to the Alnwick Garden, or castle, takes up accommodation in Alnwick or elsewhere in Northumberland. They spend money on accommodation, snacks, meals, clothing, attractions, gifts and furniture. All of this is over several days and can amount to hundreds or thousands of pounds.
We all know someone who is employed in a shop, pub, hotel, a builder who renovates hotels, etc, or an employee of the Alnwick Garden. All of the tourism providers employ people and we all spend our money in the community, supporting other jobs.
It is a very large circle and we – butcher, baker, shopkeeper, builder, petrol station or hotelier – are all interdependent on each other and on the tourist pound, which is worth over £750million per year to Northumberland. Tourism either directly or indirectly employs hundreds of people in Alnwick, multiplied many times across Northumberland.
For anyone to imply that the Alnwick Garden does nothing for Alnwick is beyond belief. Many of its visitors visit the town and use the cafés, pubs and shops. Many are staying in accommodation. Many return in the evening and will spend money in our restaurants, pubs and cafés.
The Alnwick Garden is a very large link in the tourism chain, with visitor numbers around 500,000 per year, and deserves our support.
A councillor who criticised the Garden because of zero hours contracts is voting against sustainability and future employment. Whilst I don’t advocate employing anyone on a zero hours contract, they are legal. I do not believe this is cause to prevent the expansion of a tourism attraction, which ultimately sustains job and will create jobs in the Garden, in Alnwick, and in Northumberland as a whole.
I would urge councillors to look at the benefit this relatively small amount will do for Northumberland and to support this application.
It might be a useful exercise for the council and the Northumberland Gazette to get behind tourism, this valuable growth industry, and help spread the message that tourism is not a dirty word, but a way of providing real jobs and wealth to the people of Northumberland.
Bruce Hewison MBE
Chairman, Alnwick Tourism Association