Green light for new council HQ plans

An artist's impression of how the interior of the new Northumberland County Councli headquarters will look.
An artist's impression of how the interior of the new Northumberland County Councli headquarters will look.
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An application for a new office building in Ashington, which is set to become the new home of Northumberland County Council, was approved today.

The scheme was unanimously backed by the authority's strategic planning committee this afternoon as even those councillors opposed to the move from Morpeth to Ashington could not find any significant fault with the plans for a five-storey office block.

Questions were raised about car parking and the possibility of former mine workings affecting the building, but officers assured committee members that these issues had either been addressed adequately already or would be via conditions attached to the approval.

Coun Trevor Thorne said: "Despite being against the move from County Hall, as a building and office block for Ashington, I think it's a landmark building and I think it will improve the town markedly. I feel there are no planning grounds to refuse it."

Coun Andrew Tebbutt agreed, saying: "I'm totally opposed to the move to Ashington, but on planning grounds, although I'm concerned about car parking, that in itself is not a reason to vote against the proposals."

The application is for a five-storey, grade-A office building and the provision of around 500 parking spaces at a site on Lintonville Road. The site is in Ashington town centre and forms part of the North East Quarter, which is a wider development scheme for the area that includes the new leisure centre.

The new headquarters is to be developed on a commercial basis by applicant Arch, 'with an aspiration of a lease to Northumberland County Council'. The new building would comprise office space for 910 work stations, a community drop-in centre, a double-height chamber and conference facilities plus meeting rooms, a café and central atrium space.

A committee report states: 'The proposed design of the scheme comes from an ambition to develop a highly-efficient building which would perform well both as a piece of civic infrastructure and as a modern, flexible office environment that is attractive to future occupiers'.

More than £32million of capital funding for the project – whose costs over a 35-year period are slated to be £38.5million – was approved as part of Northumberland County Council's budget and medium-term financial plan in February.

The principle of the move to Ashington and the capital expenditure allocated to it in straitened times have been the source of ongoing criticism, particularly from the opposition Conservative councillors, who describe the scheme as a '£40million white elephant'.

The council's Labour administration has constantly underlined that it is an invest-to-save project which will save the authority money in the long run, while forming part of a wider strategy to decentralise services, returning them to market towns.

However, the planning application for the building seemed to be less controversial, sparking just one objection from residents – which related to the replacement of the bus station, part of a wider infrastructure plan – and none from statutory consultees on issues such as highways, public protection, drainage and flooding.