£50m leisure resort sparks mixed feelings in community

An Active Lifestyle Resort is being built on an 800-acre reclaimed former surface mine site near Widdrington'Aerial photo of the site
An Active Lifestyle Resort is being built on an 800-acre reclaimed former surface mine site near Widdrington'Aerial photo of the site

VILLAGES surrounding a proposed £50million leisure and tourism resort have mixed feelings about the announcement.

The scheme, which is being built on 800 acres at a reclaimed former surface mine site near Widdrington, will provide a range of attractions and create up to 700 jobs.

But the community representatives who started to think of potential uses for land in 2001 under the Blue Sky Forest heading are upset that they were not recognised for their efforts when the project was publicly unveiled.

The addition of a nine-turbine windfarm development to help finance the scheme has also left a bad taste with the local parish councils and Widdrington Regeneration Partnership (WRP).

The UK’s first Active Lifestyle Resort will include a short-break adventure park with a 50-acre lake, snow slopes complete with Free Ski elements to Olympic standards, gorges and canyons, mountain bike trails, off-road vehicle courses and indoor facilities such as climbing walls, a fitness centre, water park and spa.

With a projected 130,000 users in year one, the winter sports section is expected to be a significant contributor to the project’s revenue streams.

Accommodation will include eco-lodge holiday homes and ‘camping pods’ aimed at younger residents and there will also be restaurants, coffee shops, bars and cafes and specialist retail outlets.

Although the local organisations welcome the scheme, they have criticised the decision of entrepreneur Chris Davies to go ahead with last week’s launch without them.

A statement on behalf of the WRP said: “We were very disappointed at the lack of recognition of WRP input into the Blue Sky Forest concept, now Active Leisure Resorts project, in last week’s press releases.

“In fact, the regeneration of the opencast land at Widdrington was the brainchild of individual members of the community, who evolved into the group now known as WRP.

“WRP and the parish cluster of the area remain very supportive of the regeneration concept and will continue to work closely with UK Coal and Active Leisure, as well as other developers who may have future involvement in the development of our area.

“We feel that the local communities’ support is essential to the success of the enterprise.”

A planning application for the initial phase is expected to be made by the end of the month. A full bid for the entire scheme, currently scheduled for opening in summer 2015, will follow next year.

Widdrington Station and Stobswood Parish Council Chairman Joe Sennett said that he was disappointed with the way the launch was handled, but added that the new jobs are vital to the area and his authority will ‘back the scheme to the hilt’.