Lighthouse management goes on offer

St Mary's lighthouse and island, Whitley Bay.
St Mary's lighthouse and island, Whitley Bay.
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AN OUTSIDE company is being sought to take over the running of a landmark borough attraction.

Bosses at North Tyneside Council are looking for an organisation or individual to take over the running of St Mary’s Lighthouse and Visitor Centre.

Officials say the facility is in need of investment and modernisation, which the council is unable to provide at the current time.

Members of the council’s cabinet are being asked at their meeting on Monday to give the green light to appoint a new provider who can invest in and run the site for at least the next five years.

Any new provider would be responsible for admission charges to the attraction on the outskirts of Whitley Bay, and council chiefs hope they can provide the necessary funding to carry out the improvements needed.

The attraction currently costs the local authority £50,000 a year to operate and would be the latest building leased to a private company.

Mayor Linda Arkley said she was hopeful the new arrangement could build on the popular events and education programmes run at the attraction.

She said: “St Mary’s Lighthouse and Visitor Centre is a valued and successful visitor attraction for the borough, and we are firmly committed to securing its successful future.

“However, the site is in need of investment and modernisation to ensure it can deliver the best customer and educational experience.

“An alternative provider may be able to run the facility more cost-effectively than the council, and invest in the facility in ways that the council can’t.

“We will ensure that any new provider will share the council’s vision for its future success, so that facility remains a great attraction for tourists as well as a community venue and valuable place of learning.”

The iconic site attracts up to 80,000 visitors a year, with around 14,000 climbing the lighthouse tower’s 137 steps to take in panoramic views of the coastline.

It also offers a range of activities and events throughout the year, including education sessions to more than 4,500 children.

The council already has a number of other initiatives in place, including at Wallsend’s Civic Hall which it recently leased to a private company for development and management.

Despite the proposed move – agreed as part of the council’s 2012-13 budget – the local authority would continue to own the lighthouse and visitor centre.