Campaigners now to focus on a whole lot more in Ashington

A demonstration at the Ashington hole a year ago, at which Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery spoke.
A demonstration at the Ashington hole a year ago, at which Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery spoke.

A campaign group which has been focused on a single issue of town-centre regeneration is now widening its remit.

Ashington is awaiting a major cinema and retail development on a key site near the leisure centre, which opened in 2016.

Council leader Peter Jackson at the Portland Park site.

Council leader Peter Jackson at the Portland Park site.

The Portland Park project, which will feature a seven-screen cinema, restaurants, cafés and shops, was recently described by Northumberland County Council leader Peter Jackson as ‘a viable scheme that’s going to breathe new life into one of the main towns in Northumberland’, as the authority signed off on almost £8million of funding.

But critics in the town have long dubbed the site the ‘Ashington Hole’ as it has sat undeveloped since the new Conservative administration cancelled the relocation of the county council’s HQ from Morpeth in May 2017.

Now though, the group that has been campaigning on this issue has decided to change its name and Facebook page to the Ashington Whole and focus not just on the vacant town-centre plot but all issues affecting the town.

A statement from the group said: ‘The Ashington Hole campaign has achieved remarkable success over the past two years.

‘We have put unbelievable amounts of pressure on Northumberland County Council and that would not have been possible without all of the incredible contributions on this page posted by Ashington residents.

‘Our campaigning on the hole itself will continue, just as before. We won’t let the Tories get away with what they’ve done.

‘We have decided to change the angle on the page slightly. Instead of focusing 100 per cent on the Ashington Hole itself, this page will discuss news regarding the whole of Ashington. We will campaign for what we believe is best for Ashington and ask for your input too.

‘From community champions, local sports results, new developments (lol) and personal opinions on the current state of the town, you will see it here and you can write about it here. Your contributions are always welcome.

‘A local online page, all about Ashington. #BecauseAshingtonMatters’

At last month’s meeting of the county council’s cabinet, members approved a non-repayable grant of £3million and a loan of £4.7million (repayable with interest) to Advance Northumberland, the council-owned company which replaced Arch, to deliver the cinema and retail project.

Coun Richard Wearmouth, the cabinet member for economic development as well as the Advance Northumberland chairman, said: “This is really good news for Ashington and I’m really pleased to see it coming to fruition.”

However, reacting at the time, Coun Liam Lavery, from Ashington Town Council, said: “Hopefully this development does go ahead and doesn’t get stalled in similar events to those seen in Bedlington.

“The news is welcome, but the people of Ashington have been taken for a ride and treated with no respect whatsoever.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service