Anger over bids deadline for hall

One of the County Hall for sale signs with the addition of the deadline for best and final bids.
One of the County Hall for sale signs with the addition of the deadline for best and final bids.
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A council administration has been accused of showing no respect to Morpeth after revealing the final date for offers to purchase the County Hall site.

The addition to the for sale signs next to the current Northumberland County Council headquarters in Loansdean says: ‘Best and final bids noon 7th September 2016’.

The authority had originally been seeking to create some new buildings for King Edward VI School, Chantry and Newminster Middle Schools and Technology Colleges and Morpeth First School on the site.

A new leisure centre was also proposed and the scheme would have cost in the region of £50million. But The Three Rivers Learning Trust and governors of the King Edward VI Foundation raised concerns about it during a consultation.

As a result, the Labour-run county council decided to ‘test the market’ for the site. It has planning permission for a new headquarters in Ashington, a decision which has been criticised by political opponents.

This week, the Conservative group said if it formed an administration to run the county council after the local elections next May, it would scrap the plans to sell the site and move to Ashington.

Morpeth Town Council was unhappy with the development brief for County Hall and together with Morpeth Chamber of Trade, they invited council leader Grant Davey and chief executive Steven Mason to a public meeting.

They declined, although Mr Mason said he would attend a meeting of the Morpeth Forum, which includes town stakeholders, in September.

However, following the addition to the signs, Liberal Democrat town and county councillor for Morpeth Kirkhill, Andrew Tebbutt, said: “I’m very angry because County Hall is in my ward and as the local member, I’ve been ignored and hung out to dry.

“I don’t believe the administration cares for Morpeth at all and the proof is in the decisions it has made.

“The letter back in June clearly says the site was going out for soft market testing and asking for best and final bids by September 7 is not soft market testing, it’s irreversible decision making.

“I received notification of the September 7 deadline from Coun Davey at the same time as all the other county councillors.

“The Labour group may end up doing what it wants to do, but it should at least discuss what it is planning with myself and other Morpeth councillors and have a public debate about this and other important issues for the town.”

Morpeth town councillor Joan Tebbutt said the administration’s actions were ‘also extremely disrespectful to the town council and other town representatives on the Morpeth Forum’.

Conservative councillor for Morpeth North, David Bawn, also criticised the ‘sudden nature’ of the deadline being imposed.

If the plans for the Ashington headquarters progress as expected, the new building will become operational in autumn 2018.

A county council spokesman said: “County Hall has been on the market since June 8 when the advertising boards went up around the site.

“This made potential developers aware of the opportunity and the next step in any market testing of land or property is to set a closing date for tenders. This date has now been added to our hoardings and we did inform all our stakeholders before this was done.

“A closing date is necessary to ensure that interested parties firm up their interest in the site and tenders will be carefully evaluated by our agent before a number are recommended to the council for further consideration.

“Before we make a decision about the sale of any buildings and land, we will consider its proposed use and the value which would be re-invested in our market towns and used to protect frontline services.

“We appreciate the views of all our stakeholders and will continue to communicate with them as this confidential process moves forward.”