INVESTMENT: What are the real facts?

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It’s nice to see the enigmatic chief executive of Arch step out into the sunshine for once, (News Post Leader, February 23).

However, I question whether the timing and choice of material is an earnest attempt at engaging with the Bedlington community.

Whilst I fully endorse the Arch investment in Bedlington, some of the rhetoric seems a little misleading.

As quoted in Peter McIntyre’s letter: “The new £10m town centre development is an important part of a £27m investment package for Bedlington, and it’s important that initiatives like these complement our efforts and help to create a sustainable town centre.”

Once again, like recent unrelenting Northumberland County Council propaganda, we seem to be mixing responsibilities and remits.

Firstly, is this figure of £10m actually in place? The way the scheme was going to be funded, as explained to me, was that once detailed planning had been acquired and retailers actually signed up to take units, the funding could then be sought because of those expressions.

Nothing wrong with that, it’s a sensible and daily work load for any property development company. However, it is quite different to the funding streams we in Bedlington see happening all around us, where development cash from the county council is almost thrown at different towns.

So if this £10m is really in place, give it to the town council for safe keeping.

Secondly, for the life of me I can’t work out this oft quoted, and rising all the time, figure of £27m for Bedlington investment.

I have seen the local Labour group claim it as its investment, in which case I have no doubt the national executive of the Labour Party might like to know where it got the money from.

As for the county council claiming it, I can see PFI, or whatever the modern vernacular is for it these days, I can see potential Arch investment, but with the best will in the world I can’t see any more monies from Northumberland County Council than about £750,000 for Gallagher Park pavilion, another £250,000 for Gallagher Park new play equipment and about £500,000 into the sports buildings at the new high school.

The rest is potential investment and investment by other than Northumberland County Council directly, isn’t it? In other words, hype and spin. I’m surprised the Lidl build cost hasn’t been claimed yet.

So for a potential actual investment of £1.5m, let’s look at the asset-stripping the county council has done in Bedlington over the last few years – second sale to members of the golf club £500,000, sale to Tesco of the Gap site and car park £1m, sale of the old day care centre £?, sale of the old council building £?

It would seem to me, even without knowing the true figures for those third and fourth asset sales, that we in Bedlington are still way behind even breaking even. Not something to crow about in reality, I would suggest.

The terminology used in the letter is one of factual reporting: “the new £10m town centre development”, “£27m investment package for Bedlington”, “the development will act as a significant contributor to the economic growth of Bedlington, providing 180 permanent new jobs and 33 construction jobs, and it will inject at least £1m into the local economy”.

There isn’t any suggestion there of these things not happening. There is no ‘potentially’, or ‘we are working towards’, or ‘in the fullness of time’, not even a ‘probability’ mentioned. I have to say, I hope they do, but we have heard similar many times.

Going on with the reference to “we concluded a successful public consultation event where exciting designs for the town centre were revealed”, is that the public consultation where 52 per cent of people voted for the wrong set of plans, then what was revealed was a completely new set anyway?

Again, I have to say I like the design and I fully support the project, but not the shenanigans going along with it. Of course, there is commercial confidentiality, but this is not the D Day landing sites, there isn’t a D notice requirement, it’s just a smallish development in a market town.

I have a suggestion Mr McIntyre, just get on with the job in hand. Give Bedlington what you are promising and do it in an open and transparent fashion. That way, the community, I have no doubt, will be more than appreciative and supportive.

Malcolm Robinson

Bedlington