THIS year is turning out to be a banner year for the regeneration of Bishop Auckland, with visitor numbers more than double those of last year, and the ambitious capital investment plans to bring the town back to full vitality are continuing.

The Gardens are open – seven out of eight of them, anyhow. The last one has a massive water-feature nearly 100 yards long and is called the Great Garden. It is in the heart of the palace complex and is a ‘must-see’ as, week by week, it comes towards completion.

The Faith Museum is a ‘first’ in the world – just fancy that! Faith is the most important thing in many people’s lives, and has never been displayed as a subject for a museum before.

The specialist galleries – of miners’ art and from the Spanish Golden Age – are best of breed, and make a great ‘compare and contrast’. It’s easy to imagine that you’ll love one, and be bored in the other – but ‘taint necessarily so!

The town of Bishop Auckland will not be able to accommodate fully its new role of visitor destination unless it has places for people to stay. AirBnB is doing well, but we need hotels.

We opened the Park Head Hotel last year, and both the rooms there and the food offering are well received; we now simply have to have a central hotel in Market Place, and we have one that is now funded and designed in readiness for a completion date in 2026/27.

This investment is the flagship project in a campaign to spend more than £20m this year in the town. Over at the 11 Arches site which is occupied by the Kynren nightshow, the plans for an immersive “daypark” are proceeding apace.

I was much encouraged by a London man, looking at the daypark plans, declaring sniffily: “Much too good for them!”

That’s the sort of challenge that brings out in me a fighting spirit – and the best fights are for people, not against them.

We can see that we at The Auckland Project must take a lead in expenditure, and we applaud the partnership with Durham County Council with whom, together, we can provide the seedcorn for a revived region.

We are not in it for profit, but to see prosperity for all.

It is gratifying to know that our projects, together with the Government’s levelling-up funds and the exciting new retail developments at Tindale, add up to a combined investment – already put to work – of more than half-a-billion pounds.

Half-a-billion pounds into Bishop Auckland!

We are on course for visitor numbers of more than a million visitors by the end of the decade, and the emphasis is on car parks and the built infrastructure to give the visitor a memorable time.

We also hope it will give the residents of the region a spring in their step – even in the winter months!