Bedlington town-centre project to get back on track with £1.4m council funding

The major redevelopment of Bedlington town centre is back on track – assuming Northumberland County Council signs off on £1.4million to support the scheme next week.

By Ben O'Connell
Thursday, 06 June, 2019, 17:20
The site of the retail development in Bedlington town centre, centred on the former Tesco plot. Picture by Ben O'Connell

In January, it was announced that the retail scheme, which is being led by the council-owned company Advance Northumberland, had stalled awaiting final sign-off from the anchor tenant – a major supermarket.

At a lively public meeting in March, Advance’s managing director Ken Dunbar explained that this key store had been lined up, but chose to review its options around the time the enabling works to prepare the site got under way, meaning the project stalled when these preparations were completed.

He said then that nine other retailers – eight of which would be new to the town – are ‘very interested’ in taking on some of the other units, but that they needed the anchor store in place to guarantee the footfall.

At that time, there was talk about the construction of the new shops starting in the autumn, but a statement released by Advance Northumberland this week revealed that building works will now start ‘early next year and will take approximately 12 months’.

This follows the company’s board approving a revised financial model and timetable for the development when it met last Friday (May 31) and is subject to the county council’s cabinet approving the additional funding in private session at its meeting next Tuesday (June 11).

Council leader Peter Jackson said: “We are having to provide council funding to get the scheme off the ground.

“All parties have got together to make a viable scheme that Advance will progress as soon as possible. We have been working very hard behind the scenes to get this up and running.

“As leader of the council, I’m just really pleased that we are going to see spades in the ground.”

Asked why the additional £1.4million was required, Coun Jackson said: “Without that, the scheme is not commercially viable and it does need a degree of public subsidy to get it going.

“We have been planning for this and have it within our regeneration budget.

“As a county council, we are in the business of making things happen rather than just talking about them.”

Advance has said that ‘further announcements about multiple retailers will follow over coming weeks’.

Coun Russ Wallace, one of the Bedlington Independent ward members, said: “Like all Bedlingtonians, we are frustrated by both the slow progress of the scheme and the continued missed and extended deadlines.

“However, this announcement refers to a request for additional funding in order to ensure the scheme is better tailored to meet the needs of Bedlington. It is the culmination of long, sometimes tense negotiations between ourselves and Advance Northumberland.

“The announcement states that ‘once the additional funding is in place, Advance Northumberland will be in a position to deliver’. We very much hope this to be the case and we will continue to press Advance to ensure the development progresses as soon as possible.”

It is estimated that the scheme will create over 180 new jobs, along with 70 during the construction phase.

Coun Richard Wearmouth, the chairman of Advance Northumberland, said: “The project is central to the regeneration of Bedlington town centre.

“Additional funding from Northumberland County Council will help to secure the best possible scheme and will provide a great boost to the town centre driving footfall to support other retailers.

“We have put a significant amount of resources and time into this development, to deliver the best possible development for Bedlington.”

Coun Jackson added: “It’s great for the future of Bedlington and we are also looking at other community needs that the county council might take forward.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service