A multimillionaire philanthropist is removing his threat to pull the plug on his £50,000-a-day funding for Bishop Auckland in a bid to bring peace and unity to the town.

Jonathan Ruffer announced in March that he was considering pulling his funding to The Auckland Project (TAP) because of a row with Durham County Council over how £53m of Government “levelling up” money allocated to Bishop Auckland should be spent.

But now Mr Ruffer has replaced his threat with an olive branch – a move that has been welcomed by Durham County Council, who have set out their own vision of how Bishop Auckland could thrive in the future.

Read more: Jonathan Ruffer threatening to pull £50,000 per day out of Bishop Auckland 

Speaking to The Northern Echo, Mr Ruffer said: “I am currently at loggerheads with Durham County Council, and have publicly, through the good offices of The Northern Echo, said that I would withhold further funding to The Auckland Project if the council did not play fair.

“No longer. I hereby put aside animosity and replace it with an olive-branch.

“I will withdraw my moratorium on payments to the town and ask nothing of the council in return.”

The Northern Echo: Multimillionaire Jonathan Ruffer has invested heavily in Bishop Auckland. Picture: NORTHERN ECHOMultimillionaire Jonathan Ruffer has invested heavily in Bishop Auckland. Picture: NORTHERN ECHO

The Auckland Project is behind the rebirth of the town as a visitor attraction through the restoration of Auckland Castle, which was for centuries the home of the Bishop of Durham.

It employs 80 people and is also responsible for the Binchester Roman fort, the Weardale Railway and the Mining Art Gallery in the Market Place.

Only last month, Prince Charles and the Queen of Spain officially opened the Spanish Art Gallery in a formerly derelict bank.

Partly because of this private investment in the town, the Government decided that Bishop Auckland’s bid for levelling up money was “exceptional” and awarded it £53m, the spending of which was to be overseen by the town board and the county council.

The Northern Echo: Mr Ruffer's previous funding threat centred on an argument with Durham County Council on Levelling Up money. Picture: NORTHERN ECHOMr Ruffer's previous funding threat centred on an argument with Durham County Council on Levelling Up money. Picture: NORTHERN ECHO

However, there was a heated public meeting in February in the town hall at which the council was accused of “falling short of the mark” by townspeople.

The council then created a new advisory board to sit above the town board, which all led to Mr Ruffer’s threat to pull the plug-in dismay.

This would probably have led to the collapse of the attractions which are not yet self-sustaining, although Kynren, the spectacular night show and day park is run by a separate charity and would not have been affected.

An end to any animosity between Mr Ruffer and the county council has been welcomed by the leader of the local authority, Cllr Amanda Hopgood, who wants to work with the philanthropist on a future vision for Bishop Auckland. 

The Northern Echo: Newgate Street in Bishop Auckland. Picture: NORTHERN ECHONewgate Street in Bishop Auckland. Picture: NORTHERN ECHO (Image: The Northern Echo)

In the aftermath of Mr Ruffer’s comments, Cllr Hopgood told The Northern Echo: “We welcome Jonathan Ruffer’s comments about his funding in Bishop Auckland.

“We remain committed to working with Mr Ruffer, residents, businesses and partners, to deliver on plans to regenerate the town.

“Together we have attracted millions of pounds in government funding which will bring significant benefits to the community.

“Our aim is to make Bishop Auckland an attractive and vibrant place for everyone: a thriving 21st century market town with a fantastic visitor offer that delivers economic growth and provides employment opportunities for local people.’’ 

In the last 10 years, TAP has invested about £200m into the town – that’s about £50,000-a-day. Since March, there have been several meetings with the council but no resolution.

The Northern Echo: Bishop Auckland town centre. Picture: NORTHERN ECHOBishop Auckland town centre. Picture: NORTHERN ECHO

Now Mr Ruffer has decided to remove the uncertainty and pledge his commitment to the project.

Mr Ruffer, who grew up in Stokesley and made his money in the city, said: “I have come to see that this tussle between us weakens County Durham. The council is charged with a great and complex task – to administer every aspect of the public domain in the county. TAP is here solely to help one region of that county, Bishop Auckland, in whatever way we can. 

“It is hard to imagine two more natural allies, and yet we have been at loggerheads.”

“If the council choses to reciprocate gracefully, so much the better,” he said. “But if not, then TAP will continue to do everything that it can to make County Durham a place to be proud of.”

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