Work is to begin next week on The Sill, a £14.8m visitor attraction in Northumberland National Park.
At a special meeting of Northumberland National Park Authority, members decided to push ahead with the development – described as a “milestone” for the county – after agreeing cost proposals put forward by the contractors appointed for the scheme.
The site at Once Brewed on Hadrian’s Wall will be handed over to contractor Sir Robert McAlpine on Monday and demolition of the current national park visitor centre and adjacent youth hostel will begin soon after with work expected to take up to six weeks.
Tony Gates, chief executive of Northumberland National Park Authority, said: “The Sill represents the largest scale initiative of its kind in the history of not only Northumberland National Park Authority, but national parks across the UK. “
The project will be the UK’s first dedicated Landscape Discovery Centre, with learning, participation and research activities covering heritage, landscape, conservation, countryside management, and leisure and tourism.
The aim is for The Sill is to enable Northumberland National Park and surrounding areas to be opened up to a broad range of new audiences, with programmes of interpretation, educational and participatory activities designed to inspire people to celebrate, value and conserve the natural and cultural heritage of the landscape.
It is predicted that The Sill will attract more than 100,000 visitors a year to an all-weather facility that also offers hostel accommodation, retail facilities and a café.
McAlpine will work alongside the core design team which includes architects Jane Darbyshire and David Kendall (JDDK); planners Cundall; landscape architects Glen Kemp; interpretation designers, Bright 3D, and project managers Gardiner and Theobold.
Temporary national park visitor information and other facilities will be provided from the park’s nearby Walltown site as well as the Twice Brewed Inn from the end of September. Visitors to Twice Brewed will be able to access park tourist information, and local crafts and produce previously sold at Once Brewed.
Speed limits on the Military Road have been reduced to 40mph near to the development, in response to concerns raised by local residents and businesses, and work is currently underway to improve the junction close to the site.
Mr Gates said: “I am delighted that we have taken the decision to proceed with this ambitious and innovative project.
“Its main purpose is to open up Northumberland National Park and the surrounding areas to more people, helping them learn about and explore one of Britain’s finest landscapes.
“It will be open all year, offering a wide range of facilities including YHA accommodation, exhibition space, retail facilities and a café and restaurant. The Sill will, I believe, change how we as a park authority does business and it will become a landmark asset for Northumberland and the North East.”
The construction phase is set to bring in more than 100 jobs.
When The Sill is fully operational from summer 2017, it is predicted it will deliver substantial economic benefits to the region with around £5m of additional visitor spending per year.
The Sill will include a Rural Growth Hub to support the development of rural enterprises, and the project will also offer a wide range of volunteering opportunities.
Northumberland National Park chairman, Glen Sanderson, said: “What we have witnessed is one of the most remarkable and exciting decisions ever taken by park authority members. It’s a sign of their true vision for the future and means we can push on into construction of The Sill.
“I’m delighted to welcome Sir Robert McAlpine on board as our construction partner and we look forward to seeing the development come to life over the next 18 months.
“None of this would have been possible without the support of our funding partners, including the Heritage Lottery Fund, North East Rural Growth Fund, Northumberland County Council and a range of philanthropic donors. We are extremely grateful to them all, and everyone who has, and continues to support us on this journey, as we move one step closer to realising The Sill dream.”
Caroline White, chief executive at YHA (England and Wales) said: “We are moving ever closer to the realisation of our dream to create a world class youth hostel and visitor centre in the heart of Northumberland.
“YHA began 85 years ago, so it is truly significant that the construction of The Sill begins in our anniversary year. It is testament to the hard work and dedication of the NNPA Authority Members and partners that this nationally significant project is now a reality.”
The project was awarded £7.8m by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) earlier this year.
Ivor Crowther, head of HLF North East, said: “We are delighted to support this landmark project which will create an incredible gateway for visitors to discover Northumberland National Park’s extraordinary heritage and unquestionable beauty. This decision takes us another step closer towards this goal, boosting the local economy and inspiring the new custodians of our heritage along the way.”
Coun Val Tyler, cabinet member for arts, leisure and culture at Northumberland County Council, said: “This is an important milestone for Northumberland, which will bring a host of benefits to the county, including significant opportunities for local businesses and rural enterprise while boosting our tourism offering.
“The Sill will play a key role in our economic growth strategy and I’m delighted to see that it has been given the go-ahead, bringing with it prosperity and jobs for the county and the North East.”