Row over 'vote-buying' claims rumbles on in Northumberland

‘There is a commitment for a swimming pool in Bedlington’, a councillor has claimed, hitting back after it was revealed it has not yet been approved by the local authority.

By Ben O'Connell
Wednesday, 16th September 2020, 2:41 pm
The three Bedlington Independents – Cllrs Bill Crosby, Malcolm Robinson and Russ Wallace.
The three Bedlington Independents – Cllrs Bill Crosby, Malcolm Robinson and Russ Wallace.

But Northumberland County Council confirmed that new proposals relating to the Bedlington town centre redevelopment that were announced before the crunch meeting have not had formal approval.

Cllr Jackson was removed from his position by a single vote at the Wednesday, September 2, full council meeting, with the three Bedlington Independents – Cllrs Bill Crosby, Malcolm Robinson and Russ Wallace – voting against the motion of no confidence in the leader, although their support was not enough to save him.

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During the meeting, Cllr Susan Dungworth, the Labour group leader, mentioned the ‘cost’ of the ‘Bedlington vote’, which was taken to reference the announcement by Advance Northumberland, the council-owned company, on Tuesday, September 1 – the day before the meeting – that £2.5million from the Government’s Getting Building Fund ‘will help get the town-centre redevelopment back up and running with a start date expected this year’.

This funding had been announced in early August and there have been ongoing discussions about the town-centre project for months and months, however, what was new in the announcement was that the scheme has been amended – because of the economic impact of Covid-19 on the high street retail market – to include a swimming pool and a relocated library.

And it is these elements which have not been approved by the council as yet.

In response, Cllr Crosby said: “Let me be clear; there is a commitment from the current political administration to develop a swimming pool in Bedlington. It has been discussed and agreed over several months in response to the changes to the town-centre scheme.

“That an unnamed Northumberland County Council spokesperson has seemingly questioned this is a matter to be resolved within the corridors of power at County Hall and something that needs to happen now.

“Russ, Malcolm and I have already written to the acting chief executive to seek answers and clarification. Our message is that improved leisure facilities are a must for Bedlington and are wanted by residents.”

The council said its original statement still stood and that it had nothing else to add.

The spokeswoman had said: “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.

“The council is committed to improving Bedlington town centre and consideration of the wider proposals under development by Advance Northumberland will be considered formally by the council in due course.

“We are committed to working with residents to develop proposals that meet the needs of its communities and will continue engaging with them in the coming months.”

An Advance spokeswoman said: “The announcement was to update the community at our earliest opportunity as we do with every project milestone.”

When the announcement was made, Cllr Richard Wearmouth, the chairman of Advance as well as the council’s cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “The funding from the Government does provide a fantastic opportunity for a redesigned mixed-use scheme that I am certain will be welcomed by all residents.”

Cllr Crosby added: “It is not acceptable that other towns have the equivalent of two leisure centres and smaller places have leisure facilities that our town does not.

“After decades of Labour failing to deliver, there is at last an opportunity to provide Bedlington residents with a leisure offer that other areas take for granted.

“This is through funding that otherwise would have been spent on retail and the additional resources from the Government which were recently announced.

“If more is needed, then that is where the council’s capital programme comes into play as it has previously for large-scale infrastructure projects across the county.

“If that can be done for Ashington, Berwick, Blyth, Morpeth, Hexham and Ponteland then our turn is long overdue.”

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