I have read with interest recent letters and statements regarding the planned investment in Ashington and, in particular, opposition to the proposals to relocate the corporate headquarters of Northumberland County Council to the town.
I and fellow town council members have been dismayed and disappointed by some of the comments suggesting that it is somewhat unworthy of such focus or investment in direct comparison to other large towns in Northumberland.
As the leader of Ashington Town Council, I would like to place on record the full support of the town council for the current and planned investment, which I see as being absolutely critical in both regenerating Ashington and shaping its future as a major town.
While the proposal for re-location of a county council corporate headquarters in Ashington may be a ‘headline’, it is worth bearing in mind that it is only one of many long-term plans for all major towns in Northumberland.
The county-wide blueprint for modern, efficient services in all of the county’s main towns appears to have been overlooked in the rush in some quarters to criticise plans for Ashington alone.
Plans are being formed that could see a £74m package of capital improvements that will see highly ambitious projects that will radically improve the built environment, image and perception of Ashington.
Add to that the possibility of real progress on the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne rail link and it adds up to an exciting time. The investment is greatly welcomed by Ashington Town Council.
We do not see Ashington as being in competition with Morpeth, Alnwick, Blyth, Cramlington, or any other large town.
What we do recognise is that Ashington, despite its proud history and plans for a bright future, is not a first port of call for private sector retail investment.
The town, like others in south east Northumberland, does face significant challenges with levels of high unemployment and difficulty in accessing the regional jobs market.
It is clear to me and fellow members that major public sector investment is required in order to kick-start confidence, economic growth and also to attract major sustainable retail interest.
If my memory serves me right, it was a similar brave and visionary public sector intervention in Morpeth in the early 2000s that led to the transformation of the then Back Riggs shopping centre into what is now the much-admired Sanderson Arcade.
Ashington Town Council commends the administration of Northumberland County Council on its recognition that the town requires major investment and support to kick-start regeneration.
I look forward to working with the council, its development company Arch, the Town Team, and all other partners in ensuring the best possible future for Ashington and for wider Northumberland.
The impressive and soon-to-open leisure centre is the first stage in the redevelopment, demolition work is also well under way in preparation for further development.
The proposed relocation of a corporate office building is viewed by the town council not as “reckless or ill-considered”, but as a significant decision and catalyst in bringing further economic confidence and benefits to Ashington; we look forward with expectancy to that decision being confirmed later this year.
All in all, what is clear to me is that the next two to five years will be key in shaping the future image and perception of Ashington. It is not a time for negativity.
I genuinely hope residents took the opportunity to view and comment on the latest draft plans. I would ask that as work and plans progress further residents take the opportunity to also have their say in a positive and constructive way about the future of their town.
Coun SJ Fenwick
Ashington Town Council