SWATHES of a North-East country estate could be open to the public again as part of plans being drawn up to preserve its crumbling historic structures, it has been revealed.

Edward Lambton, the Seventh Earl of Durham, has announced he is formulating “exciting proposals” for the Lambton Estate, including the “run-down” Lambton Castle, near Chester-le-Street, County Durham.

The earl wants to restore the crumbling 19th Century castle, as well as opening swathes of the 1,400-acre estate, on the banks of the River Wear, to members of the public.

Earl Lambton said: “I’m delighted to confirm we are preparing a strategy to secure the long-term future and success of the Lambton Estate.

“As the 7th Earl of Durham, I am privileged to be a custodian of the historic Lambton Castle, its grounds and artefacts.

“Accordingly, I wish to set in place a sustainable and viable framework, which preserves this most important historic asset for many generations to come.”

A team of consultants is being selected to prepare a conservation strategy for the site.

He said this could include introducing new uses and developments, with some of the proceeds being used to renovate the estate’s “crumbling historical structures”.

While details have yet to be finalised, the new uses could include leisure, commercial or residential developments.

The estate has afforded little public access since the closure of the Lambton Lion Park in 1980 and the earl and trustees say they want to rectify that.

A spokesperson for the estate said: “The Seventh Earl of Durham is preparing an exciting new vision for the Lambton Estate, a unique, historic and very private estate. Fondly remembered as home to the Lambton Lion Park, public access is now restricted.

“The castle is uninhabitable and a number of important buildings and structures, including the grade II-listed Lamb Bridge, are at risk of continued deterioration and potential loss.

“The 7th Earl of Durham, and the estate’s trustees, recognise the need for change, including public access within the estate, to secure a long-term viable future for this regionally important heritage asset.

“Working in conjunction with key stakeholders, and community representatives, the vision will be launched early in 2012.”

Listed buildings include the grade I listed Biddick Hall and grade II-listed Lambton Castle; Lamb Bridge and iron gates and railings.