Project hopes it can bring vacant sites back into use

MOVES are under way to try to secure a brighter future for Newbiggin by bringing empty buildings back into use.

The proposed regeneration project is being drawn up by the Newbiggin Partnership, a charity working with the town council to seek out funding unavailable to local authorities.

Its plans are currently being evaluated by prospective partner Northumberland County Council.

If they prove viable, Newbiggin could end up with a new hotel, workshops, public toilets, public information centre and up to 50 homes – and all without using greenfield land.

There would also be space for small businesses to expand.

Town and county councillor Alan Thompson, one of the unpaid trustee directors of the partnership, said: “Much of the plan is commercially sensitive and requires risk assessment by the county council.”

As reported by the News Post Leader, one of the ideas the partnership has in mind is to turn Woodhorn Church into a training centre for apprentices working in stone, hardwood and metal.

It is also proposed that a walled garden be created behind the village’s new Northumberland Church of England Academy site so pupils can grow fruit and vegetables.

Coun Thompson said: “Newbiggin doesn’t have any office blocks, factories or starter units. There is no place in the UK of its size that doesn’t have any commerce or industry on some scale, and we have to address all these weaknesses.”

Besides Woodhorn Church, sites being eyed up for potential redevelopment as part of the project include the old John Dobson School; St Mark’s Church, up for sale for five years; the Apostolic Church, also on the market; and the former Cleveland School, now the town’s library.

Coun Thompson, pictured, added: “The trust has put a plan to the town council to turn all of these sites from liabilities into opportunities. It’s a big project, and it’s commercially sensitive as well. We don’t own all the buildings.”

This sensitivity was raised at the town council’s latest meeting by artist Eva Hartley.

She asked why the council had made a £300 grant to the partnership to cover its accountant’s fees, the bulk of its spending last year, and was told by clerk Dennis Earl that some information discussed by the grants committee was not in the public domain and so could not be revealed at the public meeting.

Ms Hartley said: “My concern is that there is an organisation being set up, backed by the council, which is going for grant funding of quite a large order without any transparency or without any accountability to the people of Newbiggin, and that concerns me quite a lot.”

The partnership’s trustee directors are Nathaniel Graham, Jack Lothian, Coun Malcolm Peden, Keith Shirley, Roberta Glen, Richard Glen and Coun Thompson.

Coun Thompson said: “It takes a great deal of time and patience to work up these plans and submit them to the authorities, and I am sure that most people will understand that.”