MAJOR plans to transform part of Blyth riverside into a new community hub have moved a step closer thanks to government funding.
The Port of Blyth and Newcastle University have been working on proposals for ‘Blyth Education and Enterprise Community Hub (BEECH)’ to transform an area to the north of the port.
And work could start on their plans in the summer after the organisations were awarded £500,000 from the Coastal Communities Fund towards the project.
The total cost of the project is anticipated to be between £1.2m and £1.4m, with the partners also waiting to see if they have been successful in a second bid of £500,000 from the European Fisheries to raise the necessary funds.
Martin Lawlor, chief executive at the Port of Blyth, said the proposals were to transform land at the north of the harbour terminal to create a maritime heritage visitor centre with high qualify café, an education and community hub involving the university plus new berths for fishing vessels.
He said: “We’ve got money from the port and university, now we’ve got the Coastal Communities Fund in place and we have got one more bid from the European Fisheries, which we’re hoping to hear shortly from, which is also looking positive.
“I think that construction will start in the summer and be done in stages, with the first thing to be completed being the Newcastle University sciences building.
“At the end of the year, I’d like to think we’d have started on the museum and café overlooking the river and the berths.
“We’re hoping it could all be completed by the middle of next year.”
Mr Lawlor said they hoped the maritime centre would be similar to the venue in Newbiggin, but on a smaller scale.
He added that it would include the history of the port, the Blyth Tall Ships Project and historical medals, ships and organisations.
“That will all link into the café restaurant area overlooking the river,” he added.
“It’s very much a community facility.
“It’ll be a smaller variation of Newbiggin Maritime Centre.”
Mr Lawlor also believes the project will create at least 12 jobs, with the potential for more once it is all complete.
“We’ve been working on this for a good year so far,” he said. “We’re delighted to be nearing the end.
“It’s great to see the whole project moving in a positive direction.
“From the port’s point of view, it’s nice to do something linked to the community and have community access to it.
“It’s giving something back to the community.”
The project was one of four in the north east announced by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles with the aim of creating more jobs, helping new businesses start up and to provide apprenticeship and volunteering opportunities.
Mr Pickles MP said: “It’s a missed opportunity if we don’t tap into the huge potential our coastal towns have to welcome new industries and to diversify their economies so they can become year-round success stories.
“We’ve seen enormous enthusiasm for this government fund and had to make some difficulty choices but the projects we’ve chosen will create thousands of jobs and help many start up businesses.
“This money will help these towns tap into new business opportunities that will create jobs and boost skills that will benefit the whole community.”