Answers needed on County Hall

Business leaders in Morpeth have spoken of their concerns about the proposed relocation of county council headquarters.

The Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade has written to council Leader Grant Davey seeking more information about the planned move from Loansdean, on the edge of Morpeth, to Ashington.

The chamber has been directed to consultants’ reports, which suggest there could be a £50million benefit to Morpeth from the relocation.

But the business group says it has serious doubts about the figures.

Spokesman John Beynon said: “We sent a letter to Grant Davey about the closure of County Hall, setting out our concerns about the loss of jobs from Morpeth and asking him to state the economic evidence behind the move.

“We have received a letter back, basically setting out what consultants have said and how it is going to benefit Morpeth.

“We feel that we need to study the report more, but we do have serious doubts about how they have come to the conclusions. The chamber is still very concerned about the move.

“We have still got to study the report in depth, but we are a bit stumped about the figures they have come up with.”

Mr Beynon said the group is also surprised that it has not been involved in any consultation about the plans as it could have offered valuable information.

“We have never been consulted on any of this,” he said.

“We have seen the report online, but we haven’t been consulted at all, which is surprising because we know better than anyone the retail patterns in the town.

“We have been doing benchmarking exercises so we could have informed the report. There is all that information available that could have been of use.”

The consultants’ reports show that Ashington town centre already has more footfall than Morpeth, yet part of the justification for moving the council base is to boost spending there.

“We have noted that the footfall is higher in Ashington, which seems to be directly against the council’s reasoning,” said Mr Beynon.

“If a factory that employed approximately 1,000 people in the town was moving out we would have hoped that the county council would do everything in its power to keep that site so it seems strange that it is doing this with its own business.

“We need to know what economic plans are going to be in place to cope with that loss. There are still lots of questions for the council to answer.”