THE owners of Raby Castle are eyeing up potential development opportunities for its land and buildings.

Raby Estates needs to generate significant cash– said to run to millions of pounds– to conserve its historic properties and improve them as visitor attractions.

It is understood that Raby land off Winston Road, Staindrop, and at Gainford is being considered as potential sites for housing.

Staindrop Parish Councillors have met with an estate official to discuss the proposal, which is in the very early stages of being drawn up but is looking at around 70 houses on the site.

The estate is also considering how to make use of its 17th century manor house Gainford Hall, which requires significant refurbishment.

Gainford and Langton Parish Council clerk Martin Clark said: “Gainford Hall was recently opened by Raby Estate and during that event they were talking to people about what they have plans to do. They are definitely engaging with the community and the parish council but there are no detailed plans before us. The parish council has built up a good relationship with Raby Estates and I’d hope that continues.”

Raby Estates said it should be ready to discuss its ideas in more detail with the relevant communities later in the summer.

A spokesperson said: “Raby holds many nationally and internationally important heritage assets both within Raby Park and on the wider estate.

“The future of many of these heritage assets is threatened due to high cost of maintenance and in many cases there is an urgent need to find a new use and purpose for those buildings.

“Central to our thinking is Raby Castle and its wider park and gardens and opening it up to become more accessible for the wider community and visitors to Co Durham.

“To this end we have already removed the pay kiosk from the entrance to Raby Park and we are now seeing many more local people enjoying Raby in a way they have not done previously.

“Potential opportunities have been identified at Staindrop and Gainford to help facilitate the continued safeguarding of these areas for future generations and we are at an early stage of investigating these opportunities.

“We will be working closely with local communities in Staindrop and Gainford as our proposals emerge.”