MINER’S son Sir John Hall went back to his roots yesterday to help spearhead new efforts to regenerate the economy of the former pit town where he grew up.
The millionaire property developer and former Newcastle United chairman mingled with shoppers – and renewed some old acquaintances from decades ago – during a visit to Ashington on market day.
Sir John has agreed to serve as independent chairman of the recently-established Ashington Town Team, which was set up as part of the Government-commissioned Mary Portas review of high streets.
The team includes the town council, local shopkeepers, landlords and residents, and will play a key role in developing plans and proposals to revitalise the town centre.
Sir John, who was born in North Seaton, takes on his new role at an exciting time for Ashington, with work due to start next year on building a new, £20m leisure and community centre as part of a wider master plan for the town centre.
Yesterday he said: “Ashington is my home town, I have got many happy memories of the place and I thought it was time to give something back. The town team wanted an independent chairman and I hope I can help achieve its aims.
“The economy is in recession, but I applaud people in Ashington for looking ahead to when that is not the case. The town is looking at itself and at how it can bring in development and improve the shopping centre. I don’t think things will happen overnight, and we need a complete appraisal of the town and its needs.
“Like many other high streets, retail in Ashington has suffered over recent years and there are concerns that the current economic climate, and closure of the Alcan plant, will further add to the challenges faced. To be given an opportunity to return to my home town and be directly involved in working with others to effect real positive change was too good a chance to miss. I intend to give it my very best shot.”
Peter McIntyre, managing director of the Arch Group, which is delivering the new leisure and community centre project, said: “Sir John’s track record in business and retail will be hugely valuable to the town team’s efforts to breathe new life into Ashington high street.
“Arch is developing a master plan for the renewal of Ashington town centre, and exploring innovative ways to improve the retail offer is a high priority. We’re looking forward to working with Sir John, the town team and local businesses to bring new ideas, increase spend in the area and create a renewed sense of pride in his vital part of the town.”
Town council chairman, John McCormack, said the town team had already secured an initial £10,000 in Government funding. “When we approached Sir John about the role of chairman he agreed, without hesitation, to be involved.”