THE people of Hebburn have been promised that the official opening of a new £13million community facility is “just the start” of the town’s transformation.
Hebburn Central finally opened its doors to the public.
The mayor of South Tyneside, Coun Richard Porthouse – a Hebbburn lad born and bred – was on hand to perform the honours alongside borough Paralympian swimming gold medallist Josef Craig.
The two-storey building includes a six-lane swimming pool, a learner pool with bubble pools, sauna and steam room, fitness suite, sports hall, dance studio, soft play area, library, learning centre and cafe, as well as meeting rooms, a customer service centre and an outdoor games area.
But those behind the project were eager to emphasise that the multi-million pound complex marked the start, not the end, of the town’s regeneration.
And it also emerged that an announcement over a new retailer moving into the town centre was expected in “the next couple of weeks”.
Coun Porthouse, who represents Hebburn North for Labour, described the occasion as a “very proud day for the town”.
He added: “I was brought up in the town, I was born in Cambridge Avenue and this is just fantastic. This facility is going to open up a whole new perspective for people to keep themselves fit. We want to get the young people in here in particular because we are aware of the problem with childhood obesity. It will give them the mentality to get fit and remain fit.
“This is just the start for Hebburn. We have had problems over years and years with the shopping centre and the footfall coming here will hopefully give more impetus for the shop owners to improve their shops. I’d ask for people to come and use the facilities here and use the shopping centre.”
Paralympian Josef Craig added: “A facility like this is massively important, not only to get the community a lot fitter and healthier, young and old, but also it will be special to athletes like myself who have come from a very low standard in swimming to a very high standard very quickly.
“It is a very bright, new facility and has a very welcoming feel like the one in South Shields. The one across the across the road was great but it was showing its age and I think it’s a great lift for Hebburn.”
Coun John McCabe, who represents Hebburn South, said: “There is a long history to this project that goes back eight years. We had a failed bid with Tesco, we had a failed development with Asda, none of it was the council’s fault. Both commercial partners decided to invest their money somewhere else and Coun Iain Malcolm, after a discussion in his office, took this project like a bull by the horns and he led it and was very dynamic.
“The second group of people I’d like to thank are the people of Hebburn, who have been extremely patient, and who have supported us all the way through the ups and downs.”
Coun Iain Malcolm, the leader of South Tyneside Council, said the official opening of Hebburn Central was “just the start” of the town’s regeneration – and revealed that an announcement would be made by the end of the month on a new retail outlet.
He said: “This is a journey for the community of Hebburn. I’m delighted to say that in the next couple of weeks we will be able to make a formal announcement about new retail for Hebburn.
“I think it is only right and fitting today to thank Eddie McAtominey who was chairman of Hebburn Regeneration Board. It was very much the catalyst and the driving force right at the very beginning to deliver this project for the people of Hebburn.”