Ready, steady, dig

CONSTRUCTION work on a much-needed athletics track for Morpeth will get off the blocks today.

The first turf will be cut at noon on the King Edward VI School site and if all goes well, the facility Morpeth Harriers has been crying out for will be ready in October.

Other sports will benefit too as a new all-weather synthetic surface from the Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre will be installed for football and hockey.

Improvements have also been carried out by KEVI to rugby and football pitches, as well as drainage.

Plans have been ongoing since 2007 to build a new six-lane track and associated athletics facilities, with Craik Park the first venue in the sights of project manager Blyth Valley Arts and Leisure (BVAL).

But after it encountered problems, alternative locations were sought and the high school came on board.

Planning permission was granted by Northumberland County Council in April 2010 and earlier this year the scheme secured a crucial grant from Sport England, which provided £443,000 of the £1million total.

BVAL Chief Executive Bruce Ledger said: “We’re delighted to see this day arrive. There were times when we thought the project might fizzle out, but we kept with it and now there is going to be a high-quality facility for the people of Morpeth and south east Northumberland.

“It’s absolutely critical for Morpeth Harriers’ future to have an athletics track and it will help them to keep athletes of national and international standing in the region.

“When we couldn’t progress things with Craik Park, the only other obvious option in Morpeth was the high school.

“Thankfully, KEVI was keen to be part of the scheme as it was already doing work on its football pitches to make them available to the local community.

“Sport England has been very supportive throughout the process and it was also able to provide the school with a decent all-weather surface. This will allow sport to be played all year round and it takes pressure off the grass.

“The bulk of the work will be carried out during the summer holidays to minimise disruption and workers will be able to access the site via the hospital instead of going up Cottingwood Lane. If there is no bad weather, the track should be finished in October and it should certainly be ready for the 2012 season.”

Other funding for the project has come from Northumberland County Council (£375,000), with £300,000 pledged by the former Castle Morpeth Council before it was wound up in 2009, the county council’s Aiming High Fund (£40,000), Morpeth Harriers (£11,000) and KEVI (£175,000).

There will also be improvements to existing changing rooms and paths and an access ramp will be among the works to ensure that the site is fully accessible for disabled people.