Club members fight Tesco supermarket plan

ANGRY bosses are battling plans to bulldoze their club as part of a multi-million-pound revamp of Hebburn town centre.

Officials at the Iona Social Club are furious that they were not consulted about the ambitious plan.

And they have warned that South Tyneside Council and its preferred developers will have a fight on their hands if they try to press ahead with their plans.

The intention is to bulldoze the 700-member club to make way for a huge supermarket, new housing and community facilities.

The club, in Station Road, owns the land it stands on, and officials warn a legal battle lasting several years could ensue, if the council pursues its development plans.

Club treasurer Tom Bamford said: "We shall oppose the council all the way on this – there's no way the Iona Club is going to be demolished.

"We are extremely annoyed that the first we knew of the demolition plan was when we read about it in the Gazette.

"There has not been any consultation with the Iona Club about this. What makes it worse is that at least two of the Hebburn councillors who backed this development are club members. We feel like we've been kept in the dark.

"This is our club and our land and we feel it's the heart of Hebburn. Everyone in the Iona feels the same way."

Mr Bamford, himself a former long-serving Labour Hebburn councillor, dismissed suggestions that the club could be rebuilt nearby.

"How can you rebuild an institution like the Iona Club? Many older people in the town use the club during the day and they will be lost without it.

"There's a lot of space for Tesco to develop a supermarket, without knocking down most of Station Road.

"As things stand, it is up to South Tyneside Council to approach us and discuss these plans.

"The ball is in their court – but we will fight them every step of the way."

South Tyneside Council recently selected a consortium of Tesco, Bellway Homes and Gentoo to oversee what would be the biggest regeneration scheme of its kind ever launched in Hebburn.

But a lengthy compulsory purchase process could follow to pave the way for a new shopping centre fit for the 21st century.

Coun John McCabe, chairman of Hebburn community area forum, said: "The Iona Club is part of Hebburn's heritage and it will be rebuilt as part of the scheme. That's our pledge.

"I believed there had been some informal consultation between the council and the club about our plans.

"I can fully understand the concerns of club members, but while the interior of the Iona is nice and the place has a good ambience, the building itself is outmoded.

"We are talking about producing state-of-the-art facilities in Hebburn town centre, which requires large-scale demolition."

Opened in 1972, the present Iona Social Club replaced earlier premises in Argyle Street, Hebburn, dating back to the early 1960s.

A public meeting about the plans for Hebburn town centre will be held at St Aloysius Church Hall, off Prince Consort Road, Hebburn, at 4pm on Wednesday (March 26).