Finding new paths to a better future

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Durham County Council has submitted ‘level up’ offers totaling almost £100m. PETER BARRON finds out more about what government money would mean for the county…

FOR generations, James Rowlandson’s farming ancestors have adapted to the challenges of changing times, knowing full well that standing still was never an option.

Like the day his grandfather moved everything he had from Kentmere in the Lake District to Shap in Cumbria. Instead of taking the simpler 50 mile route along the valley, he instead took the direct route – straight up the highest hill – with his cows and sheep.

Perhaps not quite in the league of Hannibal guiding elephants over the Alps, but, nonetheless, it was considered such a fearless feat that the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald was prompted to write about the local farmer who “passed the peak” with his herds. in pursuit of a better life.

Today James is still an active farmer, but he is also a councilor for County Durham and, as a member of the Cabinet for Resources, Investments and Assets, he is at the heart of the authority’s attempts to find new pathways to future prosperity by unlocking government funding.

Councilor James RowlandsonBishop Auckland Town Hall

“Durham has been a sleeping giant for too long,” says James. “We must move with the times and find new ways of working to improve the lives of people living in the communities we serve. »

And, as a farmer, he knows all about change management – ​​it’s been a way of life for as long as he can remember.

When James was five, his father, John, moved his family and cattle from Shap to Bowes, County Durham. James was always destined to follow in his ancestors’ footsteps, and he later bought his own farm, just below Bowes, before moving to Stainton Village, where he now keeps 250 sheep.

Along with maintaining family traditions in farming, James also worked as a manager at Fawcett’s betting shop in Richmond. When the business was taken over by Stanley Racing it covered the whole of the North East, filling gaps in Bishop Auckland, Spennymoor and Framwellgate Moor when staff were away.

Councilor James RowlandsonSeaham Food Festival is one of many cultural events demonstrating the council’s ongoing commitment to culture-driven regeneration

After leaving the betting industry, he trained as a dry stone mason and this age-old profession continues to draw him to the region.

It was meeting people in different places and hearing about their problems that was part of the inspiration to get into local politics. Growing frustrated with Teesdale District Council, he stood as an independent councilor when Durham County Council became unitary in 2009. He was not elected but two years later was persuaded to stand as a Conservative in a by-election for Barnard Castle. East, was elected and has proudly represented the region ever since.

When he first took office, newly elected Councilor Rowlandson pledged to visit the county, so he could talk to people from different communities and find out where the greatest needs were.

“The beauty of Durham is that it’s so diverse and each area has different needs,” he says. “The only way to really know what you need and shape a vision to help is to get out there and talk to people.”

The vision is now clear and Councilor Rowlandson is confident that the five bids recently submitted by Durham County Council to the Government’s leveling fund have a strong chance of success when funding decisions are announced in the autumn.

“We’re in a bidding process so we don’t know if we’ll win or not, but the government should target the leveling money where the need is greatest, and I’m very optimistic about that. our offers because the need is here, and the work done by the agents is enormous,” he says.

The first round of bids have already secured £20million for Bishop Auckland and, if successful, the latest bids would launch more than £131million worth of projects across the remaining five parliamentary constituencies of Durham City, Easington, North Durham, North West Durham and Sedgefield – helping to improve transport links, regenerate communities and town centers and open up access to cultural opportunities.

Each bid can have up to three projects and, following approval from Durham County Council’s cabinet in June, they have been refined to reflect rising costs and to support local priorities across the county.

More than £12.4m has been pledged in matching funding by the County Council, with a further £10m coming from the authority’s medium-term financial plan.

“There’s no question Durham needs this level of investment, and we’re focusing our offerings on communities that have been left behind,” Councilor Rowlandson adds.

“The £20m that has already been won for Bishop Auckland will make a big difference as it will also leverage new investment from the private sector.

“We are committed to regenerating our communities and pursuing the best outcomes for our residents, and this funding will support these ambitious goals.

“The proposals will help connect communities, regenerate our city, town centers and villages, and enable all residents to engage with culture.”

Councilor James RowlandsonThe New Active Travel Corridor at Newton Aycliffe, with Dawn Brown, Sustainable Travel Manager; Thomas Prentice, from the Aycliffe Business Park community; Volunteer Cycle Leader Paddy O’Connor; and Councilor James Rowlandson

Projects described in the offers

City of Durham: The offer includes a relief route at Bowburn to help cope with traffic capacity constraints and to bring forward the third phase of the Integra 61 programme. The offer would also include stabilization works on the A690, as well as active travel measures in the city center to improve connectivity and connect new and existing cultural attractions.

Councilor James RowlandsonThis year’s Brass Festival, one of many events improving access to culture in Durham

Eastington: The offer is focused on the regeneration of Horden, proposing that the brownfields be used for social housing and to provide new or improved assets for the community, including a nature reserve and woodland plantation. Streets will also be improved to encourage people to move away from private car use and travel more sustainably.

North Durham: The focus is on the regeneration of Stanley to support the upgrading and repurposing of town center buildings, and the improvement of public transport. There are also plans to improve traffic flow along the A693, including the Asda Roundabout and Oxhill Junction, helping to improve journey times and punctuality for public transport. The aim is also to improve Stanley’s connections to the Coast 2 Coast route, promote the town as a stopping point and help people travel more actively.

North West Durham: Three projects were proposed to cover the projects of Willington, Crook and Tow Law. The first includes a series of improvements in the towns, including a new community center, improved parks, multi-purpose playgrounds, event spaces, as well as a BMX track and skate park. The other projects will see better infrastructure to support development at Low Willington Industrial Estate. New and improved cycling and walking routes will also be developed between Crook and Willington, while new electric vehicle charging points will be installed at key locations in the three towns to encourage sustainable travel.

Sedgefield: The bid for the constituency of Sedgefield covers Newton Aycliffe, with land and buildings in the town center being redeveloped to provide improved flex space, a public transport interchange and the redevelopment of surface parking. Active travel routes will be improved across the city, connecting places of employment, train stations, green spaces, parks and residential areas. In addition, a new cultural and well-being offer will be offered in addition to the existing leisure and library services.

Councilor James RowlandsonThe Shildon Street Festival was one of many held across the county earlier this year in a bid to bring more people to Durham’s high streets

The results of the funding bids are expected to be announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, with County Council continuing to develop plans in the meantime so projects can be delivered if the bids are successful.

“Durham has always been deprived of investment and it was time for that to be reversed,” adviser Rowlandson insists.

For the farm adviser, it’s about moving with the times, taking on new challenges and finding the best way forward – just like his grandfather did.

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