ENTREPRENEUR Sir John Hall has told of his pride at being the man who masterminded the MetroCentre – and has revealed how he wishes he still owned the site.

The businessman spoke to The Northern Echo yesterday as Europe’s biggest leisure and shopping centre celebrated its 25th anniversary.

For ten years, Sir John battled to get the MetroCentre built after getting the idea to develop a large shopping mall in the region during visits to the US and Canada.

He secured the options on a waterlogged ash dump beside the A1 after it was designated as a enterprise zone.

Plans were drawn up for a shopping centre in conjunction with the then Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council.

However, it was not until retailer Marks and Spencer signed up to open its first outof- town shop that success was assured.

Sir John later sold his stake, reportedly for £70m, to the Church Commissioners, which funded the development.

But the entrepreneur said he still felt a great deal of satisfaction when he drove past the centre.

“I feel two things,” he said.

“Firstly, it’s now worth more than a billion pounds and I wish I had kept hold of it.

“But I’m also very proud of what we did. I’m just a miner’s son from Ashington and at the time I didn’t have anyone to turn to for advice. I just had to push through whatever I was doing.”

Sir John said the Metro- Centre changed the face of retailing in the UK. “When it opened, the planes were full from Heathrow to Newcastle with people coming to see what we had created,” he said.

“It was a £250m investment in the North-East, most of which was spent in the region, and it created 6,300 jobs.”

Sir John said the idea was always to create somewhere people could go to meet their friends and not just shop – a place that had a roof to protect shoppers from the sometimes unpleasant North-East weather.

The MetroCentre celebrated its 25th anniversary last night with a funfair and fireworks.

The fairground will remain in the coach park today and tomorrow.