AMBITIOUS plans for the rejuvenation of the area around the
former residence of the Bishops of Durham at Auckland Castle are
facing their first hurdle.
Planners are recommending the refusal for a £24-million scheme
to create a son-et-lumière spectacular celebrating 2000
years of British history and using 1000 volunteers on 120 acres
adjoining the Castle.
They say that the noise and light pollution from up to 30
evening shows each summer would be too much for neighbouring
The development would also threaten the habitats of protected
wildlife, including bats and badgers.
The Eleven Arches project - named after a listed railway viaduct
that crosses the site - is the lynchpin of a £94-million project by
the philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer to turn the town of Bishop
Auckland into a world-class tourist destination.
Revenue generated by the shows, estimated at more than £9
million annually, would be used to fund other cultural developments
in the town. Mr Ruffer bought the Castle from the Church
Commissioners in 2012 as part of a deal to ensure that its
collection of Zurbarán paintings remained in the region (
News, 2 February 2012).
The project has been generally welcomed in the county as a
significant boost to the local economy. Durham County Council
planning officials remarked that it offered a "rare opportunity to
secure a visitor attraction without comparison in the region". But,
when councillors consider the plans next Tuesday, the
recommendation to them will be to reject the application.
Durham's senior planning officer, Steven Pilkington, says in his
report that officers have worked with the applicant in a "positive
and proactive manner" to find solutions; but "the fundamental
matters of the noise impact were unable to be addressed
satisfactorily despite significant effort."
His report also highlights concerns from English Heritage on the
visual impact on the Castle, a Grade I listed building, and Highway
Authority worries over traffic congestion.
A formal national press launch in Mr Ruffer's London offices is
planned for next Wednesday; but officials said this week that it
would not go ahead if permission was refused.
The Eleven Arches chief executive, Anne-Isabelle Daulon, said
that they were "highly sympathetic" to the residents' amenity, and
were committed to reducing noise to acceptable levels.
"We hope that the planning committee will be persuaded that the
significant long-term social and economic benefits of this
once-in-a-lifetime development, and our commitment to achieving
acceptable noise levels during the shows, will justify approval of
The chairman of the Bishop Auckland Civic Society, Dr Robert
McManners, described the recommendation for refusal as "devastating
news". The town's county councillor, Sam Zair, said: "It's a
once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Bishop Auckland. I hope that
some of the major issues can be ironed out."