Residents want answers over ‘hole’ in town

A section of the Portland Park site in Ashington.
A section of the Portland Park site in Ashington.

Residents have started a petition calling for an apology over what is being dubbed the ‘Ashington Hole’ and specific details for the future of this area.

The Portland Park site had been earmarked for Northumberland County Council’s new headquarters, but the Conservative administration decided to stay at County Hall in Morpeth and upgrade sections of the building after coming into power following the election last May.

A consultation took place last autumn and suggestions included a new cinema, restaurants and retail.

The local authority said last month that an outline planning application is being worked on, but the people who began the petition believe it is unacceptable that building works have not started at the site and an apology – as well as a ‘clear and detailed update’ – are being sought.

Carol Brown, who lives near the site, said: “We’re getting no answers from the county council leadership about what will be built at the site and now that the hole has been there for months, we had to do something because we feel that Ashington needs to stand up for itself.

“It’s an absolute eyesore and residents are angry that the situation has become political.

“The work on the new HQ was stopped as soon as the Tories came into power.

“This would have brought hundreds of jobs to the town and help traders as the staff would have gone to local shops during breaks.”

The petition, which had more than 800 signatures after five days, also asks for a run down of costs for the cancellation of County Hall being built on the site.

Ashington town councillor Liam Lavery said: “The fact this has dragged on for nearly a year with no end in sight is absolutely outrageous.

“Plans to move 900 jobs were shelved just days after the Tories took control of the council.

“There have been a lot of warm words about facilities that might fill ‘the hole’, but it appears there’s nothing in the county council budget to provide any finance for this.

“My understanding is almost £10million has been spent to get the site to where it is now. When a settlement is finally reached with the contractor, it’s likely that it will cost more to do nothing than to bring real regeneration to Ashington.”

He added: “The petition is rapidly gaining signatures. Local residents are fed up of the Tory administration’s attitude towards the hole in the middle of our town.

“This is key regeneration land and we need a proper plan.”

County council leader Peter Jackson said: “One of the first actions of the new administration was to put a stop to the costly move of County Hall, which had proved deeply unpopular with many residents.

“The decision was taken to save millions of pounds and since then almost £10million has been spent on Portland Park plot development and road, drainage and utility infrastructure works.

“The work undertaken by Arch and their consultants during the design and procurement stage for the building was part of the previous administration’s capital budget and this spending is not something the current council did or would have sanctioned.

“While a number of inaccurate figures have been bandied about, a sum of £1.4million has been agreed as the loss and expense settlement amount for the former HQ.

“We have always stressed we won’t abandon the site and are progressing a number of exciting options based on local feedback that will not just benefit Ashington, but the whole county.

“We are busy developing an outline planning application, which could include a multi-screen cinema, restaurants and retail stores.

“The plans will run alongside efforts to identify a cinema operator and businesses interested in occupying the proposed retail units.”

To see the petition, go to www.change.org/p/northumberland-county-council-people-of-ashington-demand-urgent-action-to-develop-the-hole-in-our-town