Ashington Hirst masterplan regeneration project will be 'largest we have ever seen as a council'

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Bosses at Northumberland County Council say new plans to revitalise one of the county’s most deprived areas are the largest regeneration project ever undertaken by the local authority.

The Hirst estate in Ashington, mainly made up of former mining cottages, now features a large number of empty homes and rising anti-social behaviour, in addition to being in the top 10% most deprived areas in England.

Introducing the Hirst masterplan at Tuesday’s meeting of the council’s cabinet, council leader Glen Sanderson described the project as “huge”.

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He said: “This is the biggest piece of work I have ever seen as a councillor that we have entered into. All members of the cabinet are involved in this.

The Hirst estate in Ashington will be the target of the regeneration project. (Photo by Northumberland County Council)The Hirst estate in Ashington will be the target of the regeneration project. (Photo by Northumberland County Council)
The Hirst estate in Ashington will be the target of the regeneration project. (Photo by Northumberland County Council)

“Without their support, we would not have got to where we are today. This is a major regeneration project, the largest we have ever seen as a council.”

Deputy leader, Cllr Richard Wearmouth, outlined some of the issues facing the Hirst estate.

He said: “This is something that no previous council in Northumberland has grappled with, which is what to do about the Hirst and how to make it the best place for residents of that community now and in the future.

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"It is a significant piece of work and for that reason it is going to take a significant amount of time.

“There are complicated issues to deal with including having the finances in place and making sure residents are really on board. The Hirst is reflective of its heritage with rows and rows of miners homes.

“The properties are all the same and do not necessarily match what people require from modern-day life.”

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Cllr Wearmouth added that an early phase of the project would likely see the development of the former Coulson School site, which has stood empty for many years. It is hoped that doing so would enable more homes to be refurbished or redeveloped as part of phase two.

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The masterplan outlines the importance of protecting existing residents from “widening inequalities” by “ensuring housing is affordable and accessible” to them.

Cllr Colin Horncastle, the council’s cabinet member for housing, added: “The problems have been there for many, many years. It is one of those things that has been too hard to tackle.

"Previous administrations along with the district council have not really got involved to the extent we have.

“This is without doubt the biggest regeneration project I have seen this council undertake. That is why it is going to take 15 years to do.

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"This is about the people who live there. We have a duty to provide modern, energy efficient homes.”

Speaking after the meeting, Labour’s Cllr Caroline Ball, who represents the Ashington Central ward that includes part of the Hirst area, welcomed the investment. However, she expressed concern about the source of funding for the regeneration.

Cllr Ball said: “I welcome any investment into Ashington, everybody does, but it needs to be the right investment. I love my home town and I will continue to fight for it.

“The promised money is going up with every press release, yet we are still waiting for something to start happening.

"There are more promises of regeneration and money but what has changed since the Conservatives took the helm and stopped County Hall coming to Ashington?”