Key decisions on the future of County Hall, which could see a new, smaller corporate headquarters in Ashington, could be made by October.
In January, it was announced that Northumberland County Council’s Labour administration is looking at selling off its civic base in Morpeth as part of attempts to cope with a £130million reduction in the budget over the next four years.
The group said it was looking at moving staff to different bases around the county and decentralising services, while also dealing with the issue of an old building that’s expensive to run and to bring up to modern standards.
A strategic options review has been carried out and these initial findings form part of a report to next week’s meeting of the council’s policy board.
It is recommended that the lead director for corporate resources further develops the options, works with the planning department to ensure the potential availability of the County Hall site is included in the Local Plan discussions and brings a detailed report back to enable key decisions to be made in October this year.
At this stage, the preferred option is ‘to move the civic headquarters away from the current County Hall site and relocate offices to other locations in the county with a new smaller corporate headquarters building at Ashington’.
The use of Ashington is due to the development, by Arch, of an investment plan for the town ‘focused on a major office-led, mixed-use redevelopment of the North East Quarter aimed at radically increasing the flow of people, investment and activity to and around Ashington town centre’.
The four options dealt with in the strategic options report are: Full relocation of 1,400 staff to a town-centre site; partial relocation of 1,000 staff, with part of County Hall and the council chamber kept for the remaining 400 staff; remain at County Hall and refurbish and modify the accommodation; move 1,000 staff to a new town-centre site and disperse 400 staff around the county to existing accommodation.
Each of the four options has been costed based on acquiring new land, new construction, and operations and maintenance over 25 years minus the money recouped from selling land (the whole County Hall site is estimated at £9.2million).
According to the report, the preferred fourth option is by far the cheapest, costing £28.2million compared to more than £42million for the other three options.