Project at risk of heading back to square one

PLANS to regenerate the centre of Ponteland may have to go back to the drawing board.

Following long delays to the Merton Way project, with the future of the library a major sticking point, Northumberland County Council has set the proposed developer – MKP Ponteland – a May 1 deadline.

This has been criticised by the Ponteland Community Partnership (PCP) and Ponteland Town Council, which has issued an open letter urging both parties to sort out the issues and move things forward.

It is now five years since the PCP’s design brief for the area, which is in need of re-development, was supported by a large majority of residents.

MKP Ponteland unveiled its initial plans in February 2009, but progress has stalled over the last three years.

In the letter, the two organisations say: “The county council, during financial discussions with the developer and separately during meetings at which community representatives were present, stated that the library was not going to be included in the overall development area. This was in direct contravention with the original brief.

“The developer requires the library to be part of the scheme, for financial viability reasons, but the county council has stated that it has no long-term plan in place for moving the library.

“For negotiations in respect of such a major project, developed initially by the community, to have reached such a depth displays a disastrous state of affairs. The town centre regeneration scheme is to be lost as a result of the inability to reach agreement by negotiation.

“This is totally unacceptable and we request the withdrawal of the ultimatum, confirmation that the library remains within the scheme and a sense of real purpose is devoted by both parties towards moving the project forward to the next stage.”

PCP Chairman Brian Prickett said residents have been asking him for many months what is happening with the scheme.

“It has been a long and frustrating process, but we believe that issuing a unilateral deadline and ultimatum is beyond the pale and so we felt it was necessary to issue an open letter,” he added.

MKP Ponteland’s initial plans included the building of new retail units, office space and residential accommodation, improved car parking and an increase in green space.

The central hub would provide a focal point – offering public space for markets, flower shows and other events – and sympathetic architecture would be used to retain the ‘village’ feel.

Under the proposals, the works would be carried out in four stages.

A spokeswoman for the county council said: “The viability and as such the deliverability of proposals to regenerate Ponteland town centre are key issues, and we therefore have to be assured that there is a sound scheme and business case in place.

“We have been waiting to see details of these for some time now, and as soon as we are presented with a viable funded plan we will consider it.”

The open letter in full is published on Page 24.