£20million for leisure centres

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A £20million investment is being lined up to replace Morpeth and Ponteland leisure centres.

Northumberland County Council’s Labour Administration has proposed the spending in its budget plans.

The investment is set out in the proposed capital programme for the next three years, along with £2million for a Druridge Bay Community Sport and Leisure Facility.

A council spokesman said: “The provision of high-quality, modern leisure and education facilities across the county is a real priority for Northumberland County Council.

“Within the capital programme, we have funding set aside for the council to realise this ambition in the Morpeth and Ponteland areas.

“Work on these schemes is at a very early stage and more information will be provided in due course.”

Altogether, more than £350million of capital investment is outlined, including £4.3million of council funding towards the Morpeth Northern Bypass, £550,000 towards a Morpeth surface water scheme, and £10million to help reinstate passenger services on the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne rail line.

A further £19million is proposed for a new affordable and existing housing programme.

A total of £19.3million is included for the relocation of County Hall.

However, the Administration is also proposing cuts to revenue budgets of £44million up to 2017.

And there would be a 1.99 per cent increase in council tax in each of the next two years.

It says £26million of savings would come from efficiencies, such as smarter use of information technology and reviews of council assets and library and tourism services, while £8.47million would be from income generation, £2.9million from service cuts, £6.3million from controlling inflation, and £350,000 from managing demands on services.

Council Leader Grant Davey said: “Over many months we’ve been looking very carefully at every area of our business to see how we can reduce expenditure, increase income and make savings, while minimising the impact on frontline services, residents and council staff.

“We’ve reviewed all our services to make sure they provide value for money and are operating as efficiently as possible. We’ve had to assess all our spending and carefully considered where we can change, reduce or remove services, causing the least possible damage to the people of Northumberland. We’ve also reviewed all of our fees and charges while looking at how we can make improvements to the way we manage demand for services.

“At the same time, we’ve been looking at ambitious investment in the future of this county. This is part of our long-term economic plan, which will boost employment, economic opportunities and support frontline services.”

Northumberland Conservatives have welcomed some of the plans, such as council house building, but also have concerns.

Group Leader Peter Jackson said: “These plans demonstrate that Labour remains the ‘tax and spend’ party, confirming its plan to double the council’s debt to nearly £1billion during its period in power and, unlike other parts of the country, confirming plans to increase the burden of council tax on residents during each and every year.

“The health warning for the future is that it is easy to spend money and run up debt, but as every house-owner knows, eventually there will be a large mortgage bill to pay.”