Why is there no plan ‘B’?

Now we have had time to digest the official closure notice by Tesco and think about how it may impact on our town, we really need to see just how much of a catalogue of disasters this has really been from start to finish for Bedlington.

I will stand to be corrected but chronologically the first the local community knew about this supposed development was at a Bedlington Forum meeting back in 2009 where one of the then Wansbeck District Council officers who put the deal together informed us that Tesco were going to do a large scale rebuild which would incorporate the car park and Gap site.

As part of the build, new shop units (six) and offices above were to be built and a long term lease (25 years+) would be given to what was then Wansbeck Life and they would administer that commercial space.

It was explained that the council were going into a form of ‘partnership’ with Tesco and would be handing over the Gap site and car park freely to Tesco as its contribution, in turn the council would get and run the new shops and offices.

Tesco then acquired the covenants on the car park from the Co-op. These covenants at the time guaranteed free parking for Bedlington residents (180 spaces) and the site for a weekly market. These conditions were quickly changed

We then had the plans put in by Tesco and the fanfare public presentations.

When asked a bit deeper for information it transpired Tesco were going to slap a two/three-hour parking limit on the car park, overseen by number plate recognition cameras and charge transgressors a parking fine.

It became crystal clear why it had needed the covenants on the car park and why it changed them.

Skip forward a few years and the planning permission which had been eagerly given was starting to run out and still no signs of any development.

Why was no one working on a plan ‘B’ as it became increasingly clear Tesco would never actually do this redevelopment?

Questions were asked of the county council about the terms of the deal which had been agreed with Tesco, especially any claw back arrangement if the development did not go ahead, because as far as I could see we had handed the two prime commercial assets in Bedlington over to a multi-national for nothing.

It took many months of repeatedly and doggedly asking the question and what came back was at odds with what we had been told all those years ago.

County claim Tesco paid £1m for the sites (car park and Gap) but did not put any timeframe for development into the agreement reached with Tesco and certainly no claw back.

I asked to see the cheque entry and even asked our county councillors to look for it.

No one has come back with any proof any money was handed over, so I can therefore only assume what we were told at the start of this unedifying spectacle was correct, council handed over those two site to Tesco free.

Even if I did believe the ‘official line’, that in itself makes the much Bedlington despised disappearance of the golf club money pale into insignificance as we are now talking about £1m not the £500,000 golf club money county previously sequestrated off Bedlington.

What really is the problem and where I would apportion blame is in the fact that there is no plan ‘B’.

One council after another was keen to sit back and do nothing in/for Bedlington because they had sold our souls to a private company which could do almost what it wanted.

This is not governance it is actually the antithesis of good governance.

Here’s an idea for plan ‘B’. Every other town in the south east of the county is getting sizable investment from the staggering (approximate) £150m going into Ashington to the latest £500,000 we have been told going into Blyth.

What about this for an idea, let’s put some of the millions of pounds Arch has been ‘given’ and allowed to trade into as investment into Bedlington? After all it is the ‘Regeneration Company for Northumberland’ and last I looked, Bedlington was part of Northumberland.

The whole Tesco site should be compulsory purchased for £1 and developed sensibly with reference to its position in a conservation area as well as overriding commercial considerations.

What is abundantly clear to me is that there is no one with any imagination or business acumen within Northumberland County Council, and certainly not anyone with reference to Bedlington’s needs Never has been since the old Wansbeck District Council days.

As well as the Tesco employees who are to lose their jobs, I feel sorry for Greggs and its employees, because at least, and at last, here we have a national company demonstrably willing to invest in a full new shop refit in Bedlington, and it must be left wondering what might happen to them too as its premises are part of the Tesco owned building.

Malcolm Robinson