Mp boycotts celebration, but Stefan makes his mark on Durham revamp

Stefan Szablewski, 10, with the artist Ailsa Magnus and the new Durham Timeline in Durham's Market Place.  Stefan had the original idea for a timeline two years ago and Ailsa created the work in granite with bronze inlays tracking some of the historic landmarks in the city's history.

Stefan Szablewski, 10, with the artist Ailsa Magnus and the new Durham Timeline in Durham's Market Place. Stefan had the original idea for a timeline two years ago and Ailsa created the work in granite with bronze inlays tracking some of the historic landmarks in the city's history.

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THE £5.2million revamp of Durham city centre has finally reached completion.

But the city’s MP snubbed a celebration event to mark a key moment in the project because of frustrations over the programme.

Stefan Szablewski, 10, with the Deputy mayor of Durham Coun John Wilkinson and County Council Leader Coun Dennis Morgan and the new Durham Timeline in Durham's Market Place.  Stefan had the original idea for a timeline two years ago and it has been created in granite with bronze inlays tracking some of the historic landmarks in the city's history.

Stefan Szablewski, 10, with the Deputy mayor of Durham Coun John Wilkinson and County Council Leader Coun Dennis Morgan and the new Durham Timeline in Durham's Market Place. Stefan had the original idea for a timeline two years ago and it has been created in granite with bronze inlays tracking some of the historic landmarks in the city's history.

Schoolboy Stefan Szablewski helped cement a piece of the city’s heritage as works come to their conclusion.

The 10-year-old St Margaret’s Primary School pupil penned a letter about 18 months ago suggesting a timeline was created across Durham’s Market Place as part of the square’s revamp.

Now he has helped lay the final piece of the installation, which is part of the Heart of the City regeneration programme.

Stefan’s idea was made a reality by Durham City Vision and artist Ailsa Magnus, with the design tracking some of the historic landmarks and events in the city’s history.

The granite timeline stretches from St Nicolas’s Church to the statue of Lord Londonderry, which has been moved to the top of Silver Street as part of the work.

Stefan said: “It’s interesting to look at and to look out for as you walk up the timeline.”

The Heart of the City regeneration programme, which began in March last year, has come in for criticism from residents, businesses, MP Roberta Blackman-Woods and others for missing its deadline and for aspects of its design.

It was scheduled for completion in February, but suffered set backs because of the poor weather and the discovery of skeltons, with the Market Place set on land once used as the church’s graveyard.

Ms Blackman-Woods also submitted a objection letter to the original planning application which was passed in 2009 – despite hundreds of local people signing a petition against the proposed changes.

She voiced fresh concerns as the project reached its completion.

“I felt that given my long-standing concerns with the redevelopment and my dissatisfaction with the end result it would be inappropriate for me to attend the opening,” she said.

“Local businesses and local people have waited patiently for the redevelopment work to be carried out even though it has gone well over schedule.

“However, they haven’t been rewarded with the Market Place they deserve and I hope the county council takes on board what people are saying and addresses the concerns appropriately.”

The MP has arranged a public meeting to discuss “the numerous issues and concerns” raised by her constituents, and council officers have agreed to attend.

About a third of the project was delivered in the Market Place, where an extensive programme of works has produced a large open space which can be used for outdoor events and markets to help boost trade in the historic town centre.

Coun Neil Foster, Durham County council’s cabinet member for regeneration and economic development, said: “The Market Place is the city’s key social space and the gateway to its World Heritage Site.

“Although it represents only a third of the Heart of the City programme – it is a very important third.

“I am delighted to be here to see it complete and I truly believe it will win over even its most vociferous critics in time.”

l Roberta Blackman-Woods’ public meeting will take place on Thursday July 21 at 6.30pm for 7pm start at St Nicholas’s Church, Market Place, Durham.

Twitter: @EchoEastDurham