FORMER coalfield communities are set for a brighter future after plans for a major £50million leisure and tourism resort were finally unveiled.
The pioneering scheme, which is being built on 800 acres at a reclaimed former surface mine site near Widdrington, will provide a range of attractions for all ages and create up to 700 jobs.
The UK’s first Active Lifestyle Resort, formerly known as the Blue Sky Forest project, will include a short-break adventure park with a 50-acre lake, snow slopes, gorges and canyons, mountain bike trails, off-road vehicle courses and Britain’s biggest treehouse adventure playground.
Among the other outdoor facilities planned are equestrian, fishing, water sports and high ropes courses and there will be a number of indoor attractions such as climbing walls, a fitness centre, water park and spa.
Accommodation in a four-star luxury holiday village will suit various needs, ranging from 100 camping pods aimed at younger residents to 400 two, three and four-bed eco-lodge holiday homes, as well as staff and visitor apartments.
A hub at the centre of the resort will house restaurants, coffee shops, bars and cafes and specialist retail outlets including outdoor stores, while an emporium will accommodate small and medium enterprises offering local produce, arts and crafts, clothing and health and beauty treatments.
A planning application for the initial phase – the new land formation resulting in the UK’s first man-made adventure slopes – is being lodged with Northumberland County Council within the next two weeks.
A full application for the entire scheme, currently scheduled for opening in summer 2015, will follow next year.
The resort is the brainchild of entrepreneur Chris Davies, who has been working on the project for the past eight years supported by his sons Ben and Greg.
They have worked together with UK Coal subsidiary Harworth Estates, a number of businesses and local councils and organisations to bring forward the proposals.
Mr Davies said: “My vision is to create a holiday destination site with a difference. I want to offer excitement and adrenalin-pumping activities with a touch of luxury relaxation.
“Active Leisure Resorts represents a real and viable opportunity to play a major role in the regeneration of rural Northumberland.
“This scheme will not only totally revitalise the site but also revitalise the minds of the community for which it serves – we’re doing the right thing, in the right place, at the right time.
“Long-term jobs with career prospects in an industry that is flourishing which is in complete contrast to a dwindling manufacturing sector on which this coastal community has been heavily reliant.
“When I first visited the site to see just how big it was, I thought ‘where do we start?’.
“We revisited it three years ago and started to make detailed plans. I had a good feeling about the site and all the professionals around the table agreed that it was worth going ahead.
“We believe that the resort will be very popular with families across the North East and in parts of Scotland.
“There has been a major lifestyle change in the last five or six years in that families may still have their main holiday abroad, but with money tighter they are also looking to go on short breaks where there is something for everyone.
“A big part of our marketing will be that there are many wonderful attractions in Northumberland that people can also visit during their stay.”
The resort site is located close to Widdrington railway station on the East Coast Main Line and there are plans to run shuttle buses from the station to the resort and link it to existing bus routes.
Many local residents were concerned that a nine-turbine windfarm on the Steadsburn site developed by Peel Energy, which was approved by a county council planning committee last week, would hamper the project.
But Eddie Peat, Director at Harworth Estates, said the structures fit in with the overall scheme.