Final stages for £50m leisure plan

A £50million leisure project for the Northumberland countryside could be put to planners next month.

Active Leisure Resorts is in the final stages of drawing up an application for a unique holiday village and adventure park that could bring 700 jobs to the former Steadsburn opencast site near Widdrington.

The company will hold a consultation event later this month to discuss its plans, which include creating the UK’s first artificial adventure slope for climbing, caving and gorge walking, an artificial ski slope with luge track and jumps, 50-acre lake, off-road driving courses and the biggest tree house adventure playground in the country.

There would also be a leisure hub with swimming pool, equestrian facilities, a retail centre, 400 eco holiday homes and 100 camping pods.

Active Leisure Chief Executive Chris Davies said: “The plans are a lot more advanced now. If we go back 12 months we had concept plans, now we are into factual plans.

“It is getting very exciting – we are moving from concept to reality and things are moving very quickly. We could be ready to submit a detailed planning application by the end of February.”

The scheme would cover almost 800 acres of the 2,500 acres at Steadsburn, Maidens Hall and Stobswood opencast sites identified by the Widdrington Regeneration Partnership (WRP) for leisure re-development.

A Peel Energy windfarm was approved as the first phase of regeneration, with the Active Leisure element forming Phase 2.

However, it will not deliver the championship golf courses, football academy, five-star hotel or multi-sports centre originally envisaged by the WRP.

Mr Davies said: “The original concept was dreamt up for the whole site. We have got 800 of the 2,500 acres so our focus is on delivering an active lifestyle resort.

“The golf courses and other projects were proposed by other people and the landowner is looking to attract additional developers. The windfarm was stage one, we are stage two. Once we are there it is going to enhance the rest of the land for other developers.”

He added: “The adventure slope is an integral part of our scheme. If we just had the holiday village it would resemble most other holiday parks, but we wanted to have a ski slope and canyon.

“The lake is filling up nicely now. There will be two to three different lakes, but the main one covers 50 acres and is seven-tenths full now. It can offer everything from fishing to sailing.”

Mr Davies has been in talks with Northumberland College to help source the project’s workforce and apprenticeships and placements would be offered.

He said: “You can build the most magnificent village, but if you haven’t got the right staff you might as well stay at home. That was one of the main attractions of coming to Northumberland. People here are hard workers, honest and they always have a good craic.”

However, Widdrington Village Parish Council Chairman Valerie Seddon has warned that residents are concerned about the scheme.

She said: “We are very pleased that Active Leisure is going to be coming to Widdrington Village to talk to people because we have been asking for some time to have some consultation here as the majority of the scheme would be in our parish.

“It is a positive step forward, but it remains to be seen how much support there will be.

“This is a very different scheme to the WRP Blue Sky Forest proposal where the activities were small scale and there was going to be a lot of planting. This is going to have more visual impact.

“It is going to really change the character of the parish. It has mainly been agriculture here and a lot of people are very upset to have such a big change.

“We held a residents’ forum in November and there was very little support for the plans we saw then.”

Coun Seddon said many of the popular proposals of Blue Sky Forest are not a part of the Active Leisure plans and there is concern that the nature of the original idea to celebrate the best of Northumberland has been changed.

She added: “We really need to wait to see what the final proposals are. I very much hope that Active Leisure will listen to what residents are saying and will be prepared to alter its proposals otherwise there really won’t be very much support.”

Community consultation on the plans will take place at Widdrington WI Hall on Friday, January 24, from 2pm to 7pm, and on Saturday, January 25, from 11am to 6pm.