Zurbaran paintings to be focus of Bishop Auckland revamp

Zurbaran paintings at Auckland castle
Image caption The works by Zurbaran have been at Auckland Castle for 250 years

A collection of 17th Century religious paintings are at the heart of plans to redevelop a County Durham market town.

Works by Spanish artist Francisco Zurbaran were saved by investment banker Jonathan Ruffer for display at Auckland Castle in Bishop Auckland.

Now Durham County Council is planning a major redevelopment of the town, which it hopes will help attract thousands of visitors a year.

The plan includes attracting major high street names and building new homes.

Council bosses want to improve the town's bus and rail station and better promote the castle, which has been home to the Bishops of Durham for 800 years.

Tourist attraction

The Zurbaran paintings were in danger of being sold off, along with the castle, by the Church of England.

But Mr Ruffer bought the paintings and the building, pledging to turn the site into a heritage tourist attraction.

Neil Foster, the council's cabinet member for regeneration and economic development, said: "Bishop Auckland really is one of the jewels in our county's crown.

"There is so much to celebrate there, the castle, the Zurbaran Paintings and magnificent Town Hall building.

"Regeneration work is well under way and improvements can already be seen in the market place."

The authority is also considering plans to build at least 2,800 more homes to meet the area's expanding population.

The plans are due to be discussed on 18 April.

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