Council under fire for polling station choice

Morpeth First School.
Morpeth First School.
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Northumberland County Council has come in for criticism over its decision to use Morpeth First School as a polling station for the upcoming town council Stobhill ward by-election.

The authority says using the Representation of the People Act for this purpose was a ‘last resort’, but staff and governors believe it was too hasty in making the arrangements.

And they have confirmed this week that the Goosehill school will be closed on the day of the vote – Thursday, March 17 – due to safeguarding issues.

Morpeth First School chair of governors Joan Tebbutt said: “It’s very infuriating that the school is being used as a polling station, especially as the county council rushed ahead with trying to arrange things when it could have explored other solutions.

“It could have delayed it by a week so the Waterford Lodge, which it has used in the past, could be available or look into setting up a portable cabin on the former Davison’s Garage site.

“I feel very sorry for the parents because they will be greatly inconvenienced and a choir from the school was due to be taken by staff to the Wansbeck Music Festival venue on March 17 and so we will have to see if parents can make alternative arrangements.”

Terry Davey, a grandparent of a pupil at the school, added: “We’re very angry with this decision as the county council has not considered the implications of closing the school for a day.”

Geoff Paul, returning officer for the by-election, said: “The decision was very much a last resort as our usual choice of venue was unavailable and no suitable alternative could be found within the boundaries of the polling district.

“We then held discussions to try and avoid the need for a one day closure. But the school was not happy to allow public access during a school day and ultimately it was their decision to close.

“We appreciate this will cause significant disruption for local families. However, use of the school represents the only means by which we can meet our legal duty to serve the best interests of voters at this unscheduled poll.”

St Aidan’s Church will also be used as a polling station.