Advance Northumberland has signed a deal with national operator Reel Cinemas, which has 14 cinemas across the UK. If the project gets planning permission, the new facility will form part of the family-owned, independent business’ growth programme.
Critics have long dubbed the site the ‘Ashington Hole’, as it has sat undeveloped since the new Conservative administration cancelled the relocation of the county council’s HQ from Morpeth in May 2017.
A group of the same name was established and it recently changed to Ashington Whole as it is now focusing on all issues affecting the town.
It has issued a response to the announcement, saying that key questions will still need to be answered.
In April, Northumberland County Council’s cabinet approved a £4.6million loan and a £3million grant to create a cinema, restaurants and bring new shops into Portland Park.
This funding, including a capital contribution of £1million by Advance Northumberland, would be used to develop a 17,000 sq ft, seven-screen cinema and restaurant space to complement the existing leisure facilities.
Terms are also being finalised with a major retailer to deliver a 20,000 sq ft retail store, with more than 100 car parking spaces.
In addition, a range of smaller shops are set to be developed by Advance Northumberland to encourage both national and local traders and provide a gateway into the more established retail offer on Station Road.
Ken Dunbar, managing director of Advance Northumberland, said: “It’s immensely satisfying for everyone in Advance Northumberland who are involved in bringing this fantastic new mixed development and cinema attraction to Ashington, thereby building on the huge success of Ashington Leisure Centre and supporting the ongoing regeneration of the town centre.
“Ashington is a great town and a great place to invest. It has significant potential and we are delighted to be delivering the further development of Portland Park.
“We have signed the deal on a seven-screen major cinema development – one that would draw people from across the county.
“And with a cinema, you also attract and support a wide range of leisure offers that will really complement the highly successful leisure centre.”
A pre-planning submission public consultation will take place on Wednesday, July 17, from 11am to 6pm at Ashington Leisure Centre.
The planning application is targeted to be submitted late summer 2019.
The consultation material will be made available online, with the public also having the opportunity to provide comments electronically should they not be available to attend the sessions.
Advance Northumberland has been working closely with the Ashington Project Co-ordination Group, the town forum comprising town and county councillors, on this major development.
A statement from the Ashington Whole group included the following: “Firstly, we’d like to point out that this development has only been signed and agreed because of campaigners who have been involved in the Ashington Hole campaign over the last 18 months.
“Whether you want a cinema or not, the hole would’ve remained a hole if you had kept quiet. So, well done.
“Secondly, we will be writing to the county council, Advance Northumberland and Reel Cinemas to get some answers for the people of Ashington. We will also be asking for a meeting with Reel Cinemas to discuss the development.
“But for the moment, we have a few initial questions. More will follow.
“If planning is approved, when will this development get under way and when should the people of Ashington expect this development to be complete?
“Our worry is that the council has delayed this development so it is partially completed whilst the 2021 local elections take place – thus putting blame on a new administration if it happens to fail. This cannot, and will not happen.
“How many jobs will be created once the cinema is developed? How much are workers paid and are they on zero hours contracts?
“Let’s hope Reel pay the living wage and give workers good terms and conditions – 900 jobs were promised, somehow we think this development will bring less than a tenth of that.
“Nationally, the high street is dying due to numerous reasons. How does Reel plan to combat this?
“Simple question. We can’t let this building become derelict. Our main worry.
“If the cinema does not succeed for whatever reason, what plans does the council have to ensure the site never returns to being a hole again?
“And the question still remains, do the people of Ashington actually want a cinema?”
Source: News Post Leader