Ambitious plans to create a new and improved visitor attraction at Newark Castle got another green light after plans were approved during Newark and Sherwood District Council’s Planning Committee last night (Thursday 18 January).

Through a funding application via the National Lottery Heritage Fund along with a £3million allocation from Newark’s Towns Fund deal and a capital contribution, this ground-breaking project will see Newark Castle’s original Romanesque Gatehouse, named by Historic England as the most complete example of such a structure in England, reinstated as the spectacular entrance just as it was centuries ago.

The new entrance will lead to five gallery spaces which follow the Castle’s story through time and bring its Medieval history to life through fascinating, fun and interactive interpretation including models, real and replica tactile objects and furniture, embroideries, trails and play, designed by Nissen Richards Studio.

There will also be a tower-top viewing platform from which visitors can overlook great views of Trent Valley. These have been a focus of the project which also aims to enhance and protect the natural environment and green space within this historic site, establishing more biodiversity and enhancing accessibility through landscape development.

Expert ecologists have been consulted to create a planting scheme which is more wildlife friendly, creating habitats and feeding places for insects, bees and birds, and incorporating bat and moth friendly lighting and bat roosts. There will also be plenty of opportunities for local volunteer gardeners and groups like Flower Pod to get involved.

The gardens were developed in the Victorian era with a commitment to provide a public space for everyone to enjoy. However, this did not account for modern accessibility and the plans will see routes updated for wheelchair users, people with low mobility and those with prams or pushchairs to be able to enjoy them equally as well as increased benches and seating.

Councillor Rowan Cozens, Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Heritage, Culture and the Arts at Newark and Sherwood District Council, said: “It’s great news that planning permission has been granted and we are now another step closer in bringing this amazing project to life.

“It was important to us that local people were consulted during this process and we have listened, ensuring that HE Milner’s beloved flowerbed remains and that wheelchair users and those with reduced mobility are able to enjoy the full extent of the gardens.

“This of course means that changes must be made but our landscape architect at Urban Edge Architecture has worked very hard to create new paths which comply to accessibility legislation. I’m delighted that this work will also see an increase in the biodiversity of this important green space as well as driving visitor numbers to boost our local economy and, hopefully, bolstering our residents’ pride in this very special local asset.”

The project has received funding from Newark and Sherwood District Council’s application to the Government’s Towns Fund initiative which Newark Towns Fund Board supplied £3million to deliver the Castle Gatehouse project.  The District Council has further submitted a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a further £1.4million and it is hoping that this application will be successful and such an announcement will be made soon. 

Councillor Cozens continues, “I’m delighted that the beautiful grounds will remain free for everyone.  The District Council is planning to use the grounds for a range of activities and events for all the community and entry to the galleries itself will be reduced for Newark and Sherwood residents.  I’m incredibly excited about the future for Newark Castle and am waiting with eagerness for the next stage in its journey.”

It’s anticipated that, once works are completed, the Castle will attract almost 17,000 visitors from outside of the district, helping to deliver sustainable economic growth as a destination attraction. It is proposed that entry to the galleries will be half price for Newark and Sherwood residents, at just £4 for adults with free entry for children and the chance to return for free as many times as desired within a 12-month period. Access to the grounds will remain free for all.

Residents and local communities will also be supported through free participation activities, co-creation and opportunities to promote improved wellbeing. The development incorporates a new facility beneath the gatehouse bridge which will be used for both learning visits and for community groups and outreach, providing an extra space in the centre of town for residents to come together.

The town’s early evening economy will be supported too with plans to improve the lighting in the grounds to enable a safe ‘after dark’ experience.

Designs, which remain conceptual and are subject to further development, were released last year and aim to give residents an idea of what to expect from this transformative project. An application has been made to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for the next stage of funding and the District Council is waiting for a decision, expected in early spring.