ASHINGTON Town Centre has received a major boost after Sir John Hall agreed to be the chairman of the recently established Ashington Town Team.
The group was formed following the Mary Portas review into the future of high streets that invited national bids for funding to pilot schemes designed to rejuvenate high street shopping areas.
Coun John McCormack, chairman of Ashington Town Council and a member of the Town Team, said: “As part of the bid for Portas Pilot status, the town council and others worked hard to help establish a representative team that would bring together key landlords, large and small shopkeepers, other local businesses, service providers and residents.
“To date, the team, with direct support from Ian Lavery MP, has been successful in securing an initial £10,000 central government funding.
“And there is a real drive and enthusiasm to continue the work to build a recognised strong town team for Ashington and to put the case for a much needed regeneration focus on the town.
“When we approached Sir John about the role he agreed without hesitation to be involved.”
Sir John, a property developer and the former chairman of Newcastle United Football Club, said he was delighted to be getting involved in the project.
He said: “I was very aware of the recent national focus on high streets but was nevertheless both surprised and absolutely delighted to be approached to consider such a role in Ashington.
“It is well known I was born, lived and brought up in North Seaton, part of Ashington.
“It is also well-documented that my early vision of the MetroCentre was based on my knowledge, liking and experience of the range of available retail shopping in Station Road, Ashington.
“Like many other high streets, retail in Ashington has suffered over recent years and there are concerns that the current economic climate and closure of the nearby Rio Tinto Alcan plant will further add to the challenges faced.
“To be given an opportunity to return to my hometown and be directly involved in working with others to effect real positive change and improvement in Ashington was too good a chance to miss and I intend to give it my very best shot.”
Regeneration work in the town is shortly due to be strengthened with the planned £20m investment by Northumberland County Council in a new community and leisure facility, with work planned to start on the site in the spring of next year.
Peter McIntyre, group managing director of development company Arch, said: “Sir John Hall’s track record in business and retail will be hugely valuable to the Town Team’s efforts to breathe new life into Ashington’s high street.
“Arch is developing a Masterplan for the renewal of Ashington town centre and exploring innovative ways to improve the retail offer is a high priority.
“We’re looking forward to working with Sir John, the town team and local businesses to bring new ideas, increase spend in the area and create a renewed sense of pride to this vital part of the town.”