Sun, Nov 30, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Commemorative rope bridge fuels right royal feud


An unusual plan to commemorate the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother by building the world's longest rope footbridge has divided one of the north of England's most picturesque valleys.

The huge, undulating structure would be slung across the steep river Tees gorge near the town of Barnard Castle as part of a ?4.5 million woodland adventure park -- derided as "Disneyland in Teesdale" -- which is applying for funds from the UK's national lottery.

Although the Queen Mother had no known interest in rope bridges, her family, the Bowes-Lyons, own huge tracts of land in the Tees Valley.

The 180m combination of rope, cable and wooden slats would comfortably capture the world record, beating the current holder, Vancouver's Capilano suspension rope bridge, by 45m.

"It would be unique in Britain, a world-class attraction," said a local businessman, Chris Dauber, the secretary of Teesdale Marketing, which is trying to revive the area's declining economy.

"Tourism is a powerful asset for us. Our local population isn't large enough to support thriving town centers so we need new employment and wealth generation; new reasons for new people to come and spend money here.

"The only really big attraction we have here is the Bowes Museum, which -- magnificent though it is -- isn't enough to bring in the numbers we need."

Opponents are concerned that the adventure park, sprawling round the ruined abutments of an old railway viaduct, would initially swamp the quiet area with visitors and then become an albatross as interest waned.

Ian Moorhouse, chairman of the Teesdale branch of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, said: "It appears to be a wholly unsuitable structure, totally out of keeping with its surroundings.

We might agree that the local economy could benefit from a boost in tourism but none of us believe that this is it. It's a potential white elephant which could become a drain on local resources."

The plan would create 80 full-time jobs, according to details submitted to the local Teesdale district council.

The bridge is also facing opposition from the 700 members of Barnard Castle golf club, whose activities risk making crossing the bridge more exciting than intended. The club secretary, John Kilgarriff, said the approach to the proposed park was "peppered daily with full-blasted drives at two of our best holes."

"They have offered to put up a screen but it would have to be at least 30ft high to guarantee that no one got hit, and that's impractical," he said.

"The only alternative would be to close those two holes and as we've no room to create new ones that would mean the end of the golf club."

The Council for the Protection of Rural England has asked for a meeting with Teesdale Marketing and the district council, while further surveys of the site and the viaduct remains are conducted.

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