A CASTLE at the centre of a bloody attempt to depose Elizabeth I is set for a major overhaul – but only after two controversial housing developments were also given the green light.

Durham County Council has approved plans to add a new cafe, car park and visitor centre to Raby Castle, near Barnard Castle, as well as other improvements to the site’s walled gardens and riding school.

Owner Raby Estates insisted that, in order for the work to go ahead, it needs to generate almost £3 million from proposals for a combined 151 new homes at Gainford and Staindrop.

Chief executive Duncan Peake said: “These hugely important developments, both for the regional economy and for the historic fabric.

“But they can only be achieved through ‘enabling developments’ in Gainford and Staindrop.

“Raby has always been a central part of our local communities in Teesdale and we’re determined it should remain so by ensuring housing development is of the highest quality.”

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Mr Peake was speaking at Tuesday’s meeting of the council’s county planning committee, which was held by videolink and broadcast via YouTube.

According to reports prepared for the panel, separate planning applications also submitted by Raby Estates for 79 homes in Gainford, off Spa Road, and a further 72 in Staindrop, off Grice Court, had been designated ‘enabling applications’.

That meant estimated revenue of £1,958,813 from the Staindrop proposals and a further £980,593 from the Gainford plans would be used to offset the costs of improvements at Raby Castle.

The castle was a key location in the 16th Century Rising of the North, in which Northern lords attempted to depose Elizabeth I in favour of Mary Queen of Scots.

An additional £1,014,341 in proceeds from work at Gainford is also expected to go towards renovation of the Grade I listed Gainford Hall and its historic dovecote.

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Committee members heard that the estate expects the development to create 55 direct and 66 indirect jobs.

All three applications were approved by the committee.

The first, for the developments at Raby Castle, went through unanimously with Councillor John Clare summing up members’ feelings when he said: “Fabulous, necessary but sensitive.”

Cllr Fraser Tinsley said: “It is really positive as we come out of Covid and come out of Brexit.

“Raby Castle is going to be critical to developing our tourism offer in County Durham, and critical to our overall economy.

“To see investment on this level is transformational, it will be an attraction on a European level.”

Cllr George Richardson added: “I’m very supportive of this development at Raby but not necessarily the means of paying for it.”

Some members had concerns about the principle of ‘enabling development’ being used to link the three schemes, meaning the benefits of the two housing plans were found to ‘outweigh the disbenefits to secure the future conservation of a heritage asset’.

Cllr Jim Rowlandson questioned whether Raby Estates, which holds vast estates in County Durham and Shropshire, really needed the housing to fund the restoration work.

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The committee heard that there was significant objection to the housing schemes from residents and community leaders in both villages.

Shared concerns included the loss of greenfield land, building outside the settlement boundaries and road safety.

A key concern in Staindrop was also for the potential of flooding, with a recent flood in area described as ‘epic’.

Opposition on the panel was led by Cllr Richardson, who estimated the plans for both villages, combined with other developments, would increase their size by about 20 per cent. He also raised concerns about loss of agricultural land and increased flood risk.

“Is [this] sustainable?” he asked.

“I’m not sure, I have grave concerns about flooding, so I will propose to refuse the application, somewhat reluctantly.”

Planning officers felt the concerns were not of sufficient weight to justify refusal of the housing applications ‘in light of the benefits’, and recommended approval, which members did on both schemes after a vote of four votes to three.