Hundreds of residents want to save The Willows

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A petition calling for two cherished Morpeth buildings to be saved from the bulldozer has received more than 1,000 signatures.

Fears have been raised that The Willows and its neighbour Beechfield House in Gas House Lane could be completely knocked down after Northumberland County Council announced plans for a ‘landmark riverside development’ on the land – firm proposals have yet to be announced.

The matter was discussed at a meeting of the authority’s central area committee, where it was also revealed that alternative long-term locations are being sought for Morpeth Library.

The Victorian buildings were damaged by the floods in 2008, but many residents believe the attractive frontages could be retained and form part of a new cultural development.

Morpeth town councillor David Clark set up the Save the Willows campaign and the e-petition, which closed on December 9, contained 669 signatures.

A further 348 paper signatures were received by the council earlier this month, creating a total of 1,017 signatures.

Coun Clark has thanked all those who added or signed their name.

At the meeting, he said: “These buildings narrowly missed being listed about seven years ago and they would have automatically been listed if they were built a few years earlier.

“There is a great desire to save these buildings as they are a big part of Morpeth’s heritage.

“Selling the family silver is a short-term way of looking at the situation.

“The council should take more of a long-term view and I would like to make an impassioned plea on behalf of the people I represent – please don’t knock down any more of our heritage!”

Paul Leo, the county council’s head of strategic estates, said a number of meetings are taking place with local stakeholders and a range of options are being explored for the riverside development.

He added: “We are keen to work with Morpeth Town Council and other organisations to consider what will happen at all the sites that may become available in the town in their totality.

“Deciding to retain these buildings before options have been developed would be unhelpful. If we proposed to demolish them, a planning application would need to be submitted and consultation would take place with the public.”

County councillor for Morpeth North, David Bawn, said: “The county council does have form on declaring a preferred option on projects, such as the County Hall move, before all of the final figures and variables have been taken into account.

“In this instance, it is the preferred option of the people of Morpeth that the existing buildings be retained as part of any proposed re-development of the site and I ask this committee to signal to the council this preference.”

Last month, the authority announced that Morpeth Library services will be temporarily re-located to Royal Sovereign House in Manchester Street in the spring.

It is now considering options for a long-term location for the library, which include The Chantry and other sites.

At the meeting, Mr Leo said that the Gas House Lane library building is no longer fit for purpose because there are too many temporary structures in place.