Boost for Durham eco-village plan
AMBITIOUS plans for a revolutionary eco-village in County Durham have received a boost from landowners and civic bosses.
It had been feared that the proposed village on the former Lafarge cement works site at Eastgate, near Stanhope, Weardale, would be scrapped following the winding up of regional development agency One NorthEast.
But yesterday landowners Lafarge said plans were still under way, albeit at a “more pragmatic and slower pace”.
Supporters hope the project – comprising 65 homes, a hotel, spa and a cable car – will revive the dale, which was left devastated by the closure of the Lafarge cement works and the loss of 150 jobs more than eight years ago.
But the project to create 350 jobs was left in jeopardy after losing a £1m grant in One North East budget cuts announced in September.
Lafarge’s project manager Lloyd McInally said: “We realised that a feeling of confusion and uncertainty was gathering momentum locally as a result of public sector cuts and the imminent winding up of One North East.
“As the landowner we feel it is important that we give local people some clarity about the latest state of play with the plans for the site.
“At the same time we wanted to ensure people understood that whilst public funding is questionable, our commitment to achieve a beneficial long-term use for the site still stands.
“To quote our update information sheet, ‘we still believe it may be possible to progress the approved plans for the site, albeit in a more pragmatic way and probably at a slower pace’.”
The renewable energy village hopes to be the only place in the country to feature all five forms of land-based energy available in the UK – wind, solar, biomass, hydro and geothermal – to provide green and clean power.
Work could begin within the next two years. Following the closure of the cement works a task force was set up to find a way of replacing the lost jobs, comprising of the now defunct Wear Valley District Council, the soon-to-be wound up One North East, Lafarge and Durham County Council.
Mr McInally said Lafarge was in contact with several commercial organisations who are expressing interest in the site.
He added: “Lafarge aims to stay involved in the project until we feel satisfied that our commitment to leaving some form of legacy for the dale, is being achieved.”
Durham County Council Cabinet member for regeneration and economic development Coun Neil Foster said the authority was determined that public investment to date – around £2m – is realised.
He said: “We are continuing to work closely with Lafarge to ensure that the development of Eastgate goes forward and I would like to think that we can still work towards maximising the regeneration benefits.”
Local county councillor John Shuttleworth said: “It is good news for the dale that Lafarge remains determined to see this project through and remains committed to Weardale.
“Their attitude is a breath of fresh air and it is some positive news at Christmas.”