Fightback begins to stop County Hall move

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A decision to relocate County Hall to Ashington is facing a challenge by opposition members.

Northumberland County Council’s Labour-dominated Policy Board voted on Tuesday to progress a detailed plan to move the authority’s base from Morpeth by early 2018.

But now Liberal Democrat and Conservative members are expected to join forces to ‘call-in’ the decision for debate by all members at the full council.

They have also suggested there could be a vote of no confidence in the Administration, and may seek Government intervention to stop the relocation of the headquarters.

Morpeth town and county councillor Andrew Tebbutt, who is leading the fight, said: “It is not just me being awkward for awkward’s sake. Having studied the issue I understand what this move would do to Morpeth and what it would not do for Ashington. That comes from a very careful and considered look at the whole situation.

“I’m very surprised that it was not taken to full council and I will be raising that with officers. I can’t think of anything that will have a greater policy impact or more significant financial implications than moving County Hall from Morpeth to Ashington, and as such it should require full council approval.

“We will go on fighting for what we believe is right.”

Northumberland Conservative Group Leader Peter Jackson said a ‘call-in’ has already been agreed between the parties.

“We will consider all possible steps to stop the Administration undertaking this absolute waste of taxpayers’ money,” he said.

The call-in can only be lodged after the minutes of the Policy Board have been published.

Members’ plans for action follow a scrutiny committee recommendation last month for the Policy Board to defer a decision on the relocation for further cross-party, cross-county examination of reports that claimed there would be more than £100million of benefits from the move.

The findings and figures have been questioned, while there is also concern that not all options have been fully explored.

However, Council Leader Grant Davey said: “Not only will this move significantly reduce our running costs, which run to millions, it will help us fuel growth in two of our key market towns. This decision alone will help us to protect vital services, which are being threatened by Government cuts.

“We will build a smaller, lower cost headquarters in a town centre. The relocation of jobs and the re-building will create wealth for the local economy.”