Fresh call for assurances over Bedlington leisure facilities
A Bedlington councillor has sought further assurance that the town will ‘get the leisure facilities it deserves’.
Earlier in September, the county council’s regeneration company Advance Northumberland released an update on the project to overhaul the town centre, announcing proposals to include a swimming pool and a relocated library as part of the scheme.
However, the timing of the announcement was questioned by the Labour opposition, coming as it did the day before a crunch meeting at which the Conservative council leader Peter Jackson was ousted by a vote of no confidence – with the three Bedlington independent members backing Cllr Jackson.
The county council subsequently said that the new proposals had not yet been approved by the authority.
At the Wednesday, September 23, full council meeting, Cllr Russ Wallace, who represents the Bedlington Central ward, asked if funding would be made available for leisure facilities in the town, noting that £1.5million had previously been earmarked to upgrade the sports centre in Newbiggin.
Cllr Nick Oliver, the cabinet member for corporate services, explained that £500,000 in the budget approved in February was to develop options for leisure facilities in Bedlington, which was ‘entirely separate’ from the town-centre redevelopment at that stage.
Since then, Covid-19 and its impact on high-street retail has prompted a rethink, with Advance Northumberland asked to look at the inclusion of leisure facilities within the town-centre redevelopment, which has now been helped by the successful bid to the Government’s Getting Building Fund.
Cllr Oliver stating 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’.
Following up, Cllr Wallace asked if everyone in the county council was committed to Bedlington ‘getting the leisure facilities it deserves’, given that the press release from Advance Northumberland about these ‘exciting’ plans was ‘very quickly downplayed by an unnamed county-council spokesperson’.
“This caused considerable consternation and unrest in the town,” he added.
The comment in question, which was provided to the Local Democracy Reporting Service earlier this month, included the following: “Proposals to relocate the council’s library service and provide leisure facilities in Bedlington have not yet been subject to any formal approval process within the council, however, we have engaged Advance Northumberland to explore the opportunities for developing the area.”
And responding to Cllr Wallace’s first question, Cllr Oliver had made a similar point: “Once the plans are finalised, the project will need to come back to council for formal sign-off, so I think there’s a very exciting future for Bedlington and the town centre will at long last get the development it needs.”
In his second answer, he added: “It’s true that over recent decades Bedlington has been one of the forgotten towns or worse still an ignored town.
“This administration has a commitment to Bedlington; council officers, local councillors, the cabinet and Advance Northumberland will be working really hard to develop some exciting plans for Bedlington and we will keep you posted and keep you involved at every stage.”