The scheme, which has been in development for some years, was previously going to include just retail and residential elements, but in September 2020, Northumberland County Council’s regeneration company Advance Northumberland released an update, announcing proposals to include a swimming pool and a relocated library.
This was in part due to the impact of Covid-19 on the high street and also due to funding becoming available from the Government’s Getting Building Fund.
Councillors were told that ‘£3million has now been identified by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership to support the project, subject to confirmation of the final business case’.
In an update to residents as 2020 drew to a close, Coun Russ Wallace, the independent member for Bedlington Central, said: “Like all Bedlingtonians, by now I had expected to see steel frames emerging from the ground, but unfortunately that is not where we are at. Coronavirus has played a large part in this.
“Ahead of the pandemic, Advance Northumberland had both Aldi as the anchor tenant and several other retailers in place to occupy retail units on the site.
"However, the outbreak caused a number of these other retailers to review their plans. In one case, a prospective tenant went into administration.
“Therefore, from a point where things were looking very rosy, we have had to make changes to the project.”
He added: “In my opinion, these changes are more suited to the needs of residents and will result in a much better overall outcome for Bedlington.”
In relation to the retail element, Coun Wallace said: “Aldi remains as the anchor tenant and I fully expect the deal to bring them to Bedlington to be signed off soon.
"At that point we will at last see activity taking place on site. A short build time is expected to allow the store to open well before the end of 2021.”
He also told residents that he and the town’s other two county councillors continue to make the case to the local authority for funding to be made available ‘to advance the revised scheme as quickly as possible’ and that he has again written to the leader and chief executive on this.
The new scheme should be tailored to the need of the town, he explained, adding: “With that in mind, the public consultation, in whatever form possible given current circumstances, must ensure that everyone can have their say.”
In terms of the funding situation, a mid-year financial performance update which was presented to the council’s cabinet stated that a £1.45million grant to Advance for the Bedlington project is being moved from the current year into 2021-22 ‘due to the funding package having to be revised due to Covid-19’.
The report explains: ‘A bid is to be submitted to the Local Enterprise Partnership’s Getting Building Fund for up to £3million and will need to be defrayed first, meaning that the council’s funding needs to be re-profiled into 2021-22.’
Another £12.1million in loans from the authority to Advance are also being shifted to the 2021-22 financial year for Bedlington as well as schemes in Ashington and Amble.