COUNCIL and campaign leaders in County Durham have pinpointed Bishop Auckland as a “major tourist trap” in the future after it was announced that the historic market town had received over £72m in government funding to revitalise itself.

Last year, Bishop Auckland was handed £19.9m from the Future High Street Fund, £32.2m from the Towns Fund, as well as an additional £20m from the Levelling Up Fund.

These funding streams from the government were designed to transform various locations across the UK, build out of the Covid-19 pandemic in an economically strong position, while also allowing the area to prosper in the future.

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Now that the finances are in place, representatives of Durham County Council, Bishop Auckland Town Council and project boards in the town have donned their thinking caps to push forward with project that will be of benefit.

Already, the Spanish Gallery in Bishop Auckland is undergoing a major revamp that will mark a ‘new dawn’ for the town and welcome visitors from across Europe, according to decision makers across the county.

Durham County Councillor, Richard Bell, believes that Bishop Auckland could have the same tourist economy as locations with “far bigger” populations.

The Northern Echo: Councillors and campaign leaders want to revamp Bishop Auckland to become a destination that will rival some European destinations.Councillors and campaign leaders want to revamp Bishop Auckland to become a destination that will rival some European destinations.

He said: “Bishop Auckland has got some great places to see and visit – there’s the new tower, Auckland Castle and loads more. We want to make it somewhere that people want to come and spend time and use.

“What we’re really aiming to do in Bishop Auckland – expand the visitor economy, we want it to be a destination for leisure, not just shopping because it’s the future for every high street and market town, much like Bishop Auckland.”

Cllr Bell isn’t alone in this assumption.  

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David Land – chair of the Bishop Auckland, Stronger Towns Board, has already started thinking about how Bishop Auckland can market its main square to bring more people in.

He added: “Bishop, as a town, has 25,000 people and a lot of the time, there are a handful in and around the high street and the market square.

“We’ve got a market square that’s to die for. It’s idyllic. It can be compared to some major European cities. By getting this money and investment, we’re going to be revitalising it.”

The Northern Echo: Some of the paintings within the Spanish Gallery in Bishop Auckland.Some of the paintings within the Spanish Gallery in Bishop Auckland.

Among the other highlights scheduled for Bishop Auckland, proposals to “bring to life” the restaurants, bars and tourist attractions and bring others “up to scratch” are on the agenda.

This will work alongside a separate ‘ongoing’ project from philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer, who purchased Auckland Castle, its contents, and several other assets in Bishop Auckland in 2012.

Liz Fisher, engagement officer for the Auckland Project, said: “We’ve got some fantastic cultural assets – the castle, the Spanish gallery and the mining gallery, as well as many others.

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“The main thing from our point of view is that it must benefit the community whatever we do. As many people have said before, the whole projects are coming together to form a united front from all involved.

“We want to get everyone thinking about their town, what’s in it, how they want their town to look in the future and how they can be a part of that.”

Despite pushing forward with various schemes into this year, councillors connected to the funding are also keen for members of the public in Bishop Auckland to get involved to help shape the town.

The Northern Echo: Local councillors are keen to get residents of Bishop Auckland involved in the development of the market town.Local councillors are keen to get residents of Bishop Auckland involved in the development of the market town.

Cllr Andrew Jackson, Bishop Auckland County Councillor, added: “We’ve got a variety of funding, whether it’s the Future High Street Fund or the Levelling Up fund, which will bring a lot of opportunity for us.

“We’re excited to hear about all of the projects that are coming and we’re looking forward to the benefits that it will bring along with it.”

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