Agenda item

Darlington Rail Heritage Quarter

Report of the Group Director of Services.


The Leader introduced the report of the Group Director of Services (previously circulated) providing an update on the Darlington Rail Heritage Quarter (DRHQ) project and seeking the necessary approvals to deliver the project for the Bicentennial Anniversary of the Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR) in 2025.


It was reported that the DRHQ was a major project that invested in the Council’s rail heritage ahead of the bicentennial anniversary of the S&DR in 2025 to create a national visitor destination in Darlington; heritage and cultural regeneration were recognised as key ingredients to economic growth and that the DRHQ would complement the economic growth ambition of the Borough; the DRHQ would be transformed into a major visitor attraction by 2024 so that it could be a central part of the bicentenary events of the S&DR in 2025; essential improvements would be undertaken to a number of significantly historic buildings on the site, linking them together to create a cluster of attractions including, the Skerne Bridge, the oldest working railway bridge in the world; digital and technological investment would bring history to life; and that there would be a new immersive ride experience.  Other facilities to be provided at the DRHQ included a café, shop, themed play area, show field, a new live engineering building, temporary exhibition space, archive and extended car parking, all of which would attract all generations to visit for years to come.


The submitted report outlined the background, objectives and vision of the project; provided an update on the approvals, acquisitions and leases required to deliver the project; outlined the delivery timetable; financial, legal and HR implications; procurement advice; consultation undertaken; and equalities considerations.


The Chair of the North Eastern Locomotive Preservation Group (NELPG) addressed Members at the meeting and requested that consideration be given to the Council re-engaging with them, as a key partner of the DRHQ.  The Leader responded thereon, and in doing so, stated that although the Officers of the Council would agree to meet with them there may now be limited opportunities due to the tight deadlines involved with the project.


RESOLVED – (a)  That the progress with the delivery of the Darlington Rail Heritage Quarter, as detailed in the submitted report, be agreed, and in doing so it be recommended to Council that:


                                       (i)      £0.54m funded from grants and contributions from external bodies, be approved and released;


                                     (ii)      £2.2m from the Indigenous Growth Fund, be approved and released, and the use of £4.6m from the Towns Fund, be noted;


                                   (iii)      £5.11m of capital funding, to be financed through prudential borrowing from within the existing Medium Term Financial Plan resources allocated for the Head of Steam, be approved and released;


                                   (iv)      £1.6m of capital funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) and £0.3m from the Arts Council England (ACE), subject to successful applications, be approved and released, and that in the unlikely event the bids were not successful it be agreed to underwrite the £1.9m of funding; and


                                     (v)      a further £1m be released and underwritten, if the current project costs could not be reduced further by value engineering.


(b)  That officers be authorised to progress the compulsory purchase order should the negotiated transfer not be completed by the end of February 2022.


(c)  That the Chief Executive be given delegated authority to agree terms of the lease and service level agreement for site partners.


(d)  That a funding agreement, be entered into, with the Tees Valley Combined Authority under the current delegated approval by the Group Director of Operations.


REASONS – (a)  To enable DRHQ to move forward to delivery, ensuring it is completed in time for the 2025 celebrations of 200 years of the Stockton and Darlington Railway.


(b)  DRHQ has strong links to the Council vision contributing to the economic growth of the town, and Northgate in particular, and would be a key venue for the 2025 celebrations, which would put Darlington and the wider region on the world map being a place to be truly proud of, demonstrating the Council’s commitment to valuing our heritage and culture.


(c)  Cabinet do not have the delegated authority to approve capital expenditure over £0.5m in one financial year.

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