County Hall call-in lodged on 17 fronts

The battle to keep County Hall in Morpeth will be fought on 17 fronts.

An official ‘call-in’ has been lodged over Northumberland County Council’s Policy Board decision to progress plans to relocate the authority’s headquarters from Loansdean to a new building in Ashington.

The call-in has been led by Morpeth Kirkhill member Andrew Tebbutt and is backed by fellow Liberal Democrats James Smith and Heather Cairns, as well as Conservatives Glen Sanderson, Jeff Watson, Ian Hutchinson and John Riddle.

It sets out 17 reasons why the decision should be questioned.

It argues that spending significant resources on a new headquarters without a comprehensive study of the refurbishment needs of the existing building is disproportionate, particularly when the council has to make savings of £130million, and states that the projected financial benefits of the move are seriously flawed.

It says there has been no consultation with residents or presentation of the views of key stakeholders, scrutiny’s calls to widen consultation were ignored, and no attempt has been made to consult Morpeth Town Council or the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade.

The call-in also says that claims that the previous Administration failed to spend money on County Hall between 2008 and 2013 were not challenged by officers when several million pounds were spent.

It adds that the failure to bring such a significant policy decision before the full council indicates a lack of openness, and by refusing to have a cross-party, cross-county working group to look into the matter, it presumes a pre-determined decision. It states that the lack of a detailed condition survey of the existing headquarters means all estimates are speculative.

And it says there is a failure to understand the impact of more housing in the south of Morpeth and the implications for education, the Core Strategy and Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan.

It adds that there is a failure to address the environmental impact of more than 500 vehicles travelling to Ashington town centre, there is over-reliance on the belief that public-sector investment there will attract significant private business, there is a failure to address an alternative economic assessment, and the impact of potential devolution has not been considered.

Morpeth North county councillor David Bawn said: “Once again opposition councillors have had to force the Administration into the council chamber to debate a controversial, rushed and ill-thought-through proposal.

“As with post-16 transport, this is a very important issue for the people of Northumberland and it needs to be fully and openly debated.

“I am shocked that the Administration has not voluntarily referred this to full council.”

However, Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said: “This call-in is ill-judged, premature and it conveniently doesn’t make any positive reference to the £56million spin-off for Ashington or the £58million spin-off for the Morpeth economy.

“It also doesn’t make any reference to the need for the council to cut at least £100million as a result of Coalition cuts.

“The danger is that opposition politicians are closed to making savings and that stunts like the call-in will look like political games, not a positive engagement in dealing with national Coalition cuts.”

Officers will now have to rule on the call-in’s legality.