The plans for Bedlington Front Street fail in one important aspect – they have no feeling of community and no sense of integration into what already exists or what else might be created.
I accept the need for ‘affordable housing’, and enabling the opportunity to live within the commercial heart of a locality, however large or small, is positive.
However, can planners really not see past shopping?
Perhaps the library might be included in the project, perhaps some kind of council information point might figure, but where is the soul in this proposed development?
What does Bedlington lack? What might Bedlington need? What would enrich the lives of those who live in the town?
Pubs we have, and some of those are fighting to survive. A golf course we have, restaurants we have, fast food outlets we have, snack bars we have, independent shops we have, which have remained faithful to Bedlington and which are supported by local customers.
Private gymnasia we have, and a community centre we have, whose volunteers do sterling work to add to the social and educational life of the community.
We do not have a swimming pool – financial constraints suggest that this is not a viable proposition.
We do not have any theatre space. Will the development of the community centre in Bedlington Station meet that need?
We do not have indoor sporting or recreation facilities of any kind.
Although the community centre offers a limited range of musical entertainment, it is constrained by form and size. The success of Bedrock underlines an appetite for music, why not exploit it further? Why not offer aspiring musicians and dancers facilities which would support the development and exhibition of their talents?
We do not have facilities that would encourage residents with disabilities to extend their skills and experience, or encourage more elderly, less robust residents to share in activities, which would help to keep them intellectually and physically active.
One might have hoped that the new Bedlingtonshire Community High School would offer more than just schooling to the community, but the only references seem to be that the Football Foundation has confirmed its investment in a new synthetic 3G pitch on the school site, jointly managed by the school and Active Northumberland, so it becomes a community resource, and a multi-station cardio gym and dance studio, with sports facilities run in conjunction with Active Northumberland so they are also available to the wider community out of school hours.
So too vague and limited to make a judgement.
How constructive or influential has Active Northumberland been in this consultation process?
It cannot be either acceptable or wise to consider the development of the Tesco site in isolation. Bedlington Front Street offers two (probably three) other development sites, both (or all) of which could add to the vibrancy of the community.
It cannot be acceptable or wise to consider the development of the Tesco site without looking to see how the community centre could be integrated, or to develop Bedlington Front Street without giving sufficient importance to aspect and aesthetics. Any new development must be integrated into what already exists and improve it.
We can create something banal and pedestrian, if that is all Bedlington deserves, or we can stretch our imagination and generosity of spirit into a truly groundbreaking and forward-thinking project.
I am sure that both short-listed firms are capable of injecting a sense of fun, excitement and innovation into their proposals – all of which are absent from the initial submissions.