A County Durham town is hoping to receive a significant economic boost and become a world-class visitor destination with the submission of a bid for almost £50m in regeneration funding.
Last year, Bishop Auckland was selected by the government to be part of the Stronger Towns Programme, allowing Durham County Council to apply for a bid of £46.8m.
As part of the bid, the Stronger Towns Board has set out a vision for Bishop Auckland to become a world-class heritage visitor destination of UK national importance.
If successful, the funding will be allocated to regeneration projects in the town, building on its unique heritage and assets to make the town an exciting place to visit, live, learn, work, and invest for generations to come.
Through the Stronger Towns Fund it is estimated an additional 1.5 million visitors will be attracted each year to Bishop Auckland which will substantially boost the county’s visitor economy by encouraging longer stays and higher levels of spend, driving 3,000 jobs and £240m per annum of economic value.
It builds on priorities established through the Bishop Auckland Masterplan and the bid for money from the Future High Streets Fund, which has awarded the town £19.9m to support the town’s high street and help to recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Through this regeneration the town will achieve sustainable economic growth, becoming a stronger economic contributor to the North East region and bringing benefits to areas across the county.
It will see the town become a 21st Century bustling market town and service centre for the whole of South West Durham, and a gateway to the Durham Dales, using the town’s existing heritage to give it a future as a vibrant place to visit.
As part of the Stronger Town vision, the project will deliver improvements to heritage walking and cycling routes, developments to the Weardale Railway, the creation of a new heritage transport museum as well as new supporting road infrastructure to sustain the town’s development as a world-class heritage destination.
Further projects in the Stronger Towns bid include new workspaces with associated enterprise support, a skills and training hub, town centre diversification and the establishment of Bishop Auckland as a 5G-enabled town, rolling out ultrafast broadband to reach 3,000 premises.
These projects all make up Bishop Auckland’s Town Investment Plan, which aims to solve infrastructure capacity, diversify and strengthen the town centre, creating an all-weather retail and leisure offer.
The Stronger Towns bid will be reinforced by the £200m charitable investment from the Auckland Project, which has already restored and created a number of valuable attractions and recreational activities, boosting local businesses and the impression of the town.
To date, these projects include Auckland Castle, which saw £27m of investment, a £1.5m refurbishment of the Town Hall, £1.1m invested in the Mining Art Gallery, and the staging of successful outdoor show Kynren, which has attracted over 250,000 spectators since starting in 2016.
The town was also awarded Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) status in 2018 and has over 50 projects and buildings within the programme.
The bid supports the council’s Towns and Villages Strategy, which aims to act as a catalyst to further regeneration and investment all over County Durham.
It has already helped bring about £750m of investment across the county at sites like Horden Rail Station and Festival Walk Shopping Centre in Spennymoor.
Through the strategy the council also seeks to align its budgets and activities to ensure they deliver the best outcomes for communities.
Through its Towns and Villages Investment Plan the council aims to support projects which complement and ensure best outcomes for residents from the £750m.
The plan, which is set to be approved at Cabinet this month, sets out £25m in investment: £20m for the county’s most disadvantaged communities and a further £5m to be allocated by the council’s Area Action Partnerships to priority projects identified by residents.
Cllr Carl Marshall, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for economic development, said: “We are committed to delivering on residents’ and businesses’ aspirations for thriving and sustainable town centres and villages across the county.
“This programme will increase visitors to Bishop Auckland as it becomes a world-class heritage destination, encouraging longer stays and higher levels of spend, which will boost our entire visitor economy, meaning the benefits of this project will be felt beyond the town and into all parts of the county.
“These projects will promote change, attract investment, improve facilities, create jobs and access new opportunities, enabling a skilled and healthy population with all residents contributing to and benefiting from the continued growth.”
David Land, chair of Bishop Auckland Stronger Town Board, said: “The Stronger Towns Fund has provided us with the opportunity to secure further investment, aimed at providing new opportunities, jobs and training for local residents.
“We’ve developed a clear vision for the town so that we can restore the fortunes of the town and provide benefits across County Durham and the wider North East Region.
“We trust our aspirations will now be matched through the Stronger Town Funding, demonstrating government support to the town and the wider Durham County.”