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Tuesday, 02 June 2015

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£12m Sill ‘monstrosity’ too close to Hadrian’s Wall

TOO big and in the wrong place – that’s residents’ verdict on the £12m visitor centre planned for the heart of Hadrian’s Wall country.

And one even dubbed the Sill a “monstrosity” during a public meeting organised by Bardon Mill and Henshaw parish councils on Tuesday.

At the meeting, called to allay local fears about the project, Northumberland National Park officials were grilled about the size of the centre – it will cover 2,100 sq m – and the danger that it could draw visitors’ attention away from Hadrian’s Wall, a World Heritage Site.

Calls were also made for changes to a junction on the Military Road near the site, in light of the estimated 100,000 visitors expected to descend on the Sill every year.

Coun. Jeff Oliver, of Henshaw Parish Council, said: “People have tried to build eco-friendly holiday flats in this area, and other schemes, but they are told it’s too close to the Wall. Yet you are going to build this monstrosity here.

“If it goes ahead it has to be right.”

And one resident asked: “Is it appropriate to put an iconic building in front of an iconic World Heritage Site?

“I would say it’s going to be a distraction to what is behind.

“We have a very sparse landscape here and this will be in focus because it is so different to everything else. I think it’s unfortunate to position it in such a sensitive location.”

The ability of the local road network to cope with the expected increase in traffic was also raised by Coun. Oliver, who said: “There’s a junction which needs to be altered, so at least people can see left and right.

“It’s overgrown and needs a major refurbishment with a footpath leading from it; it’s not going to cost millions, but there have been accidents there and it needs addressing.”

Attempting to reassure residents, Sill project developer, Stuart Evans, said: “We are not just going to seek planning permission and then walk away from these issues.”

He added that the authority was working with Northumberland County Council to reduce the current 60mph limit on the Military Road to 40mph, and also to increase visibility for motorists.

And he said that despite the projected visitor numbers, trips would be spread out throughout the year and would include coach parties.

He also pointed out: “English Heritage encouraged the architect to design a roof which looked down upon the Vallum. It said it was important to see a glimpse of the building from the wall.”

Architect Alison Thornton-Sykes said that “grassing materials” would be used on the roof, and that the site will be shielded by trees on the Northern boundary, to ensure it blends in with the landscape.

If it goes ahead, the Sill is expected to generate about 120 jobs. Its landscape discovery centre, educational activities and wildlife star trails would attract visitors all year round, while youth hostel accommodation would also be provided.

The proposal has already won the backing of local B&Bs and other businesses according to Coun. Val Gibson, of Henshaw Parish Council, because of the economic benefits it will bring to the area.

The national park has submitted a planning application which will go before county council planners on August 13.

l PLANS to give voters a say in the running of Northumberland National Park have been welcomed.

Hexham’s MP Guy Opperman has said proposals to hold local elections to appoint members were a huge step forward.

It follows the announcement in the Queen’s Speech, of draft legislation to improve local accountability in areas protected by national park status.

Mr Opperman said: “This really is a very big change and will bring democracy to the heart of the national parks.

“It has become a catchphrase of mine that, when in doubt, we should trust the people, so, for me, this really is a positive step.

“There is no reason why our increasingly powerful national parks should not be democratically accountable to the communities affected by national park authority decisions.

“Local people have a right to their say over who makes those decisions.”