The highlight of the year has been the commencement of the construction of The Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre at Once Brewed on Hadrian’s Wall.
The project was awarded a £7,748,000 grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2014/15. In 2015/16: £1,056,000 of Heritage Lottery Funds; £1,000,000 of Rural Local Growth Funds; £44,500 of Youth Hostel Association funds and; £395,500 of charitable and philanthropic funds were drawn down.
£275,000 of the charitable funds were received via the recently established Northumberland National Park Foundation. The construction is proceeding on a fixed price contract and The Sill is scheduled to open in June 2017.
Further funding has been pledged from philanthropic and charitable sources along with a £500,000 capital grant from Northumberland County Council and a Youth Hostel Association capital contribution of £250,000. Fundraising will continue over the 5 years of the project in order to maximise the impact of The Sill and transform how people of all ages understand and explore the landscapes, history and heritage of Northumberland and the wider region.
During the construction of The Sill, we have moved our southern operations team and visitor centre operation temporarily to our Walltown site. There was £25,700 of capital investment funded from revenue to install temporary steel offices to facilitate this. Early signs of visitor engagement and trading at this site are positive.
Other substantial investments made during the year were:
· Capital expenditure of £123,200 to expand parking capacity at the popular Housesteads Car Park on Hadrian’s Wall. For the first time the Authority utilised its option to borrow, drawing down a loan of £100,000 from the Public Works Loan Board over 10 years. Costs were higher than anticipated due to the discovery of important archaeology on the site. This was excavated, recorded and conserved prior to the completion of the works which led to short delay and an increase in costs which the Authority has funded from revenue.
· The refurbishment of Bulby’s Wood Toilet Block was completed in July 2016. The capital cost of £135,800 (£11,655 in the 2014/15 financial year) was funded from revenue having being released from an earmarked reserve established in 2013/14. The much improved facilities now include a reliable water supply, public Wi-Fi and an unmanned visitor information facility base for volunteers and national park activities.
· Building on the success of the Eastburn, Hexham Enterprise Hub, which received financial support for the capital build from Rural Growth Network Funds, the Authority added a further two office pods at Eastburn. The cost of the new pods was £32,700 and was funded from revenue. The Authority’s contribution to the overall project is forecast to pay back in full early 2016/17 and will then contribute to core national park purposes going forward.
The Authority continues to focus on improving commercial income generation, access to grants and philanthropic fund raising. Key to this has been work towards delivering our commercial income strategy, which was again substantially achieved for the year. During the year Government extended ‘Power of Competence’ to the Authority which provides new opportunities for the Authority to explore future income generation and we will now look as to how we can use this new power.
The Authority fully achieved 65% of its broad work programme for the year. 31% of actions were partially complete, this is reflected in the large financial budget carry forward of £598.500. This shows the work programme remains challenging. With only 4% of actions not achieved we are confident the work programme is realistic.
Overall this performance continues to represent a significant achievement and positive impact in the National Park, its communities and businesses.