Advance Northumberland and county council outline future of Bedlington development projects
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Council leader Glen Sanderson was grilled by residents and council regeneration manager Rob Strettle and Advance Northumberland director of projects Andrew Mowbray outlined recent progress in the town at a meeting last week.
The long-running scheme by Advance, the council-owned developer, is aimed at improving local amenities but people have grown frustrated at a lack of progress.
So far an Aldi and a new Greggs have been built, but the project has also seen a contractor fall into administration and work stall.
Speaking at the Cramlington, Bedlington and Seaton Valley Local Area Committee, Mr Mowbray said: “I was here 15 months ago and we felt we had got somewhere.
"Unfortunately the contractor went into administration with the project half-built.
“We have now secured a new contractor, Surgo, after quite an extensive process.
"We are hoping to bring some retailers onto the site and that is starting to look a bit more promising.
“We are finding that retailers are looking to invest in sites again.”
The town’s former Greggs unit will be demolished by January 2024, with new retail units completed by September. Advance are continuing to market three remaining units as well as three development plots.
Mr Strettle explained the town’s “project pipeline,” a series of concept projects that could be brought forward to improve the town.
These included a hotel, although market tests found little interest in investing in such a business.
He said: “The trick is to make Bedlington a compelling place to be in and to come back to. We want it to be a special place.”
On the hotel plan, he added: “If there is growth in employment opportunities in the area, that might bring more value to the idea.
"Once we know what is happening with the Britishvolt site, we will do some more market testing.”
Some residents at the meeting were not hugely impressed with the presentation.
Business owner Gareth Fernandes said: “Bedlington is an independent town. Stop trying to whack your head against the wall trying to attract large national retailers here who do not want to come here.
“You cannot even get a public toilet, never mind a leisure centre.”
Resident John Hall added: “Nothing is listened to. You could not run a bath.”
Bedlington’s deputy mayor Victoria Thompson said: “I am concerned that there is contempt for Bedlington. It seems if you’re in the right postcode, you can get the funding.”
Mr Strettle said he was “really sorry” Mrs Thompson felt the town had been treated with contempt, and pointed out the town had seen “millions” invested in it.
A freedom of information request by the Local Democracy Reporting Service found that, since 2017, Bedlington has received £13.01m in capital spend by the county council, the third lowest of Northumberland’s 10 largest towns.
Leader Glen Sanderson has since argued that with “all the work under way” that investment will be over £20m and that this exceeds the £11.68m spent under the council’s previous Labour administration.