Leisure project could hinge on windfarm approval

AN ambitious multi-million pound vision for tourism, sporting and leisure facilities could be dead in the water if a windfarm application is knocked back.

East Chevington Parish Council heard on Monday that the Blue Sky Forest (BSF) project could ‘be over’ if a bid for 13 turbines does not go ahead.

The BSF is the brainchild of the Widdrington Regeneration Partnership (WRP) and landowner UK Coal to turn former opencast areas at Steadsburn, Stobswood and Maidens Hall into a national visitor attraction.

The plans include an international standard golf course, equestrian centre, holiday village and hotel and other facilities.

On top of this, a windfarm, developed by Peel Energy, has been integrated into the scheme and an application for the turbines is expected to be lodged this year, ahead of the wider BSF bid.

But Patrick Keogh, development manager for Peel Energy, has said an unsuccessful windfarm bid could potentially spell the end of the BSF project, but added that the final decision would lie with UK Coal.

Peel Energy would lay the foundations for the site by creating access roads and installing essential electricity network connections, and Mr Keogh told members at East Chevington that the windfarm would offer the wider scheme commercial viability.

Mr Keogh said: “I would say that if the windfarm fails at the planning stage, then the project is over. The project could not continue without a windfarm. It wouldn’t be sustainable.”

Yesterday, WRP chairman Val Seddon – who is also chairman of Widdrington Parish Council – admitted that it would be ‘a concern’ if the turbine bid failed, but it would not necessarily spell the end of the BSF project.

She said that the ‘best way’ to provide infrastructure and electricity connection at the site would be through the windfarm application.

But she added: “We have developers for the rest of the activities in place. Yes it would cost more if those turbines didn’t go ahead but hopefully developers would still see the opportunities there, because they are immense.”

A steering group has been set up, which includes the likes of Stoneheads Associates, Place Developments, UK Coal and the community through the WRP, in partnership with Northumberland County Council, to progress the application. It is hoped that the BSF bid will be submitted next year.

The project is designed to be carbon neutral, with solar panels on buildings and work taking place with Newcastle University to use bio-crops.

Coun Seddon said: “We are hoping both aspects – the renewable side and the rest of the development – will get planning consent. If the windfarm fails it would be a concern, however, we feel we have got a good mix of renewables coming into the site so hopefully that will be considered at the planning stage. It is not just turbines. We have got other renewables as well.”

Mr Keogh was speaking to the parish council following member concerns that the windfarm would be the only part of the scheme to be built.

Coun Dickinson said there was a feeling that the BSF project was a ‘sweetener to make the medicine taste better’ but that ‘sweetener would never materialise’.

Mr Keogh tried to allay these fears.

“It is fair to say that the developers sat around the table are very keen to take it forward. They see it as a real project.

“There are developers out there who want to deliver it. The proposal for the BSF project is real.”

Public exhibitions will take place on October 19, 20 and 21 in local venues to update residents on the windfarm application, while people will be informed of progress on the wider project.