PLANS to transform a historic County Durham town into a world-class visitor destination of national importance have moved a step closer today following a successful bid for £33.2 million government funding.

Durham County Council has successfully made the case for £33.2m investment for Bishop Auckland as part of the Stronger Towns Fund, allowing it to progress with ambitious plans to regenerate the town and invest for generations to come.

As part of the bid, which the council submitted in January this year, the Stronger Towns Board set out a vision for the town to become a world-class heritage visitor destination of UK national importance, a service centre for the whole of South West Durham and a gateway to the Durham Dales.

A new road connection into Auckland Park is central to the plans as it will allow a range of new visitor attractions to come forward across the site and provide a catalyst for increased visitor numbers.

Investment in new infrastructure will accommodate high visitor numbers without impacting on the town’s use and help to support job creation and the recruitment of local people into new opportunities.

Councillor Elizabeth Scott, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member of economy and partnerships, said: “We are delighted to be able to progress with our plans to develop Bishop Auckland into a world class visitor destination and welcome further government funding to allow us to invest in the town for generations to come, making it a thriving town which is an exciting place to live, visit and work.

“The regeneration projects will not only boost the county’s visitor economy but also bring forward a range of employment and skills opportunities for residents across the wider county and South West Durham, as well as bringing residents and visitors improved accessibility through new infrastructure.”

The projects have already received strong support from residents, with over 1,500 people taking part in an online consultation ahead of the funding bid being submitted.

The grant is set to provide a further stimulus for development and investment across Bishop Auckland, following a £19.9 million award from the Future High Streets Fund in December to support the town’s high street and recovery from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Combined, the investments will help to transform Bishop Auckland, creating new opportunities for the retail and hospitality sectors and helping to increase footfall through improved accessibility.

It also supports the council’s Towns and Villages Strategy, which aims to act as a catalyst to further regeneration and investment throughout County Durham and seeks to align the council’s budgets and activities to ensure they deliver the best outcomes for communities.

David Land, chair of the Stronger Town Board, said: “We are delighted with today’s announcement. It reflects the broad support and commitment of a wide range of partners working with and across the Stronger Town Board to put together a programme which will have massive benefits to not only Bishop Auckland but also the wider County Durham economy.”

Bishop Auckland business owner Sam Zair, owner of Sam Zair’s Cafe welcomed the announcement.

The Northern Echo:

He said: "It's excellent news the money is being invested in Bishop Auckland. Any investment is good I just hope it's not wasted. We need the money to be spent not indirectly on the high street but directly within the high street."