VISITORS fascinated by the sights and sounds of Hawes auction mart should be welcomed as a boost to the economy.

That was the message from Maurice Hall, mart manager, to a meeting to explain how a £100,000 feasibility study into redeveloping the site would proceed.

Mr Hall said many holidaymakers and day trippers were interested to see how livestock auctioneering was conducted and often turned up at the mart eager to listen in.

Redevelopment of the site to incorporate a visitor attraction as well as enhanced mart facilities should be welcomed, he told the meeting organised by Rejuvenate Wensleydale at the creamery on Thursday of last week.

"Visitors who come to Hawes already come to the auction mart in their droves," said Mr Hall. "They are fascinated by the art of auctioneering and the movement of animals.

"Instead of accepting them grudgingly as interferers, let's harness them, get them out of the way of the animal movements and use their genuine interest to get some money out of them while we have got them."

Phillip Holden, chairman of Rejuvenate, set up in 2001 to help the agricultural business through the foot-and-mouth crisis, said the feasibility study would examine how the mart site might be developed to help the community and the economy of the upper dale.

Angela LeGrice, of the Upper Wensleydale Community Partnership, outlined the aims of the scheme, which included safeguarding or creating 50 jobs, attracting five new businesses, supporting the creation of 200 learning places and attracting private finance.

The development could include a "virtual" dales experience for visitors, a service centre to promote and sell local produce and crafts, a conference and business centre with advice and training, and performing arts and exhibition space.

Ideas also include a sheep and wool exhibition, farmers' markets and activities such as farm walks, orienteering and creative workshops.

The feasibility study, to be carried out by independent consultants Measurement for Management Decision, has been funded by Barclay's Bank and Yorkshire Forward, which each contributed £50,000.

Paul Askew, MMD team leader, said a further public meeting would be held on March 19, following fact-finding by the consultants.

"Over the next weeks we will be information-gathering and making sure we have a firm footing in the facts and attitudes," he said. "Then we will develop and examine options and present our results in March."

Feedback from the public would help the team identify the prime options and thorough market research would then teat them out. The public would be kept informed throughout, said Mr Askew.

The entrepreneurial spirit of the upper dale would be harnessed to drive forward the scheme, which it was hoped would be funded by a mixture of European and UK government funding and private investment.

The aim was to provide something not already offered in the Hawes area and not to duplicate what was already there or take business from other attractions.

Alan Harpley, a resident keen to promote performing arts, said the Dales Countryside Museum already had a performance venue which could seat about 80 people. He hoped any such development at the mart would be much larger, catering for perhaps a 500-strong audience.

Lack of affordable housing was also raised as an issue which could affect the viability of the project, particularly if new jobs were created but workers were unable to afford to live locally.

There was also concern that attracting more visitors to the area would inevitably bring more traffic onto already congested roads.

Mr Askew said affordable housing and traffic management were two areas to be examined as part of the study.

Kate Empsall, of the Upper Wensleydale Business and Tourism Association, said it was vital that the team asked the opinions of businesses located outside Hawes.

Mr Askew said the project aimed to boost the economy of the whole upper dale and not all elements had to be located in town.

The possibility of broadband, which enhances computer connections, would also be examined as part of the study.

MMD was chosen from five consultancy companies which bid for the feasibility study. Its former projects have included the Centre Parcs/Oasis development near Penrith and the rebirth of Butlin's