Tyne & Wear

Northumberland Council Alnwick Garden loan criticised

Alnwick Garden
Image caption Alnwick Garden plans a "play structure for elves"

A council has been criticised for plans to lend millions to an attraction owned by one of Britain's largest landowners.

Northumberland County Council intends to lend £8.5m to the Duchess of Northumberland's Alnwick Garden for a new play area.

The council said it needed to increase job numbers and support the economy.

Alnwick Garden said the money was a loan, not a grant, and the new "play structure for elves" would bring tourism and jobs.

Independent councillor Stephen Bridgett asked why Alnwick Castle and the Duke's Northumberland Estates could not pay for the new attraction.

"Why should the taxpayers of Northumberland be burdened with it?" he said.

The council needs to cut £6m from its budget this year and is looking at a possible council tax increase of 4.99%.

Image caption The Duke and Duchess are thought to be worth around £365m

Labour council leader Grant Davey said the loan was "about jobs and the economy".

"We've got to boost the economy of Northumberland and we've got to increase the job numbers here in Northumberland," he said.

Alnwick Garden CEO Mark Brassell said the Play Garden would be "an international attraction to the UK and our region, bringing tourism, jobs, significant secondary spend and a measurable boost to the local economy".

The garden is run by a charitable trust but the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland are thought to be worth around £365m.

The Duke is listed by Country Life magazine and Tatler magazine as the country's fifth largest landowner, with 130,100 acres (52,650 hectares).

The council will discuss its budget plans on 22 February.

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