Hundreds of jobs could be on way as project takes shape

Hundreds of jobs could be on the way sooner than expected as plans for Widdrington’s Blue Sky Forest project look set to get up and running years ahead of schedule.

It had been thought the tourism and wind energy proposals that make up the ambitious project would take years to get off the ground, but it is now set to go ahead as a single development.

That breakthrough follows the £200m scheme being given ministerial support and suggestions that it could be fast-tracked under a proposed new law.

Northumberland County Council’s south east area committee welcomed the progress being made on the project at its meeting last week at Blyth’s Isabella Centre.

Milburn Douglas, county councillor for Lynemouth, said a business and funding plan had been drawn up for the initiative and it is hoped that further details can be presented to the county council next month or the month after.

The Blue Sky Forest project is being led by the Widdrington Regeneration Partnership.

If approved, it would consist of an international-standard golf course, sports academy, Olympic-size swimming pool, adventure centre, children’s activity centre, 500m indoor ski slope, lakes, shops and a hotel.

It would be built on 2,500 acres of former opencast land at Stobswood and nearby Maidens Hall.

The estimated cost of the project is £200m, but that could change.

Progress on the scheme now looks set be accelerated because landowner UK Coal and its property manager Harworth Estates have joined forces with leisure developer Stoneheads Associates, and it in turn has formed a partnership with international regeneration developer Place Developments.

Those links will allow the project to go ahead as a single entity rather than separate proposals.

Peel Energy is proposing to surround the golf course with wind turbines, a layout described by Stoneheads boss David Heads as “one of a kind”.

Communities Minister Bob Neill is enthusiastic about the Blue Sky Forest plans and said he was impressed that something so ambitious had been conceived by a community group.

He has asked to be kept in touch with progress on the project and suggested that it be considered for neighbourhood planning approval, part of the localism bill the government is hoping to get passed as law.

The bill proposes empowering parish councils to make general planning policies about the use of land in neighbourhoods.

They would then be able to permit such development without having to apply to county or borough councils for planning permission.