THE administration at County Hall has been urged to come clean about its proposals to sell off the site.
A Morpeth Town Council motion to Northumberland County Council calling on it to provide detailed information about the potential closure of its headquarters in Loansdean was endorsed by all 15 members of the town authority at a recent meeting.
The Labour group that runs the county council is considering the move because there would be significant cost savings – it says that County Hall would need more than £10million to bring it up to modern workplace standards and moving staff to smaller town centre bases across the county would reduce the current £450,000 annual energy bill.
But concerns have been raised by Morpeth residents and councillors about the impact it would have on the town, particularly if hundreds of new homes are built on the site.
The motion was proposed by Coun David Parker and when introducing it at the meeting, he said: “This motion gives the people of this town an opportunity to remind the leadership that the future shape of this town is something that local people regard highly, as the results of the recent issues and options consultation (for the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan) clearly show.
“So if the proposal is going to be acted upon, then the people of Morpeth need to know how serious the county leadership is and the timeframe to which it is working.
“They need to know how many houses it is talking about, where the staff are going to be located and if any of them will be stationed in Morpeth.”
Seconder Coun Andrew Tebbutt said: “I can’t honestly see how getting rid of County Hall and moving staff to town centre locations will contribute to the savings that the county council need to make, it will only add to the costs.”
Coun Nic Best questioned whether the running costs of the smaller locations combined would be lower than those currently at County Hall and said that if the Labour group does want to look at closing it, other uses apart from housing should be considered such as employment, a hotel and a new school.
The motion calls upon the county council’s administration to do the following:
• publish as quickly as possible all existing evidence that the closure of County Hall is in the best interests of the residents of Northumberland and provide a clear indication of the nine locations previously identified to where staff will relocate;
• undertake, in conjunction with key stakeholders, a full business case assessment of the closure of County Hall and disposal of the site;
• agree to incorporate the County Hall site into the current Core Strategy and Neighbourhood Plan and Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment, along with the accompanying infrastructure issues;
• meet with Morpeth Town Council as a matter of urgency to discuss the effects of this proposal on the local economy;
• explore fully with key stakeholders ways of mitigating the inevitable negative economic impact on Morpeth;
• enter urgent discussions with the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group how Northumberland County Council may deliver on its statutory duty to facilitate Morpeth’s Neighbourhood Plan.
Coun Adrian Slassor, a Labour member of the town council, said: “I support the motion, but I think we should concentrate on the interests of Morpeth residents rather than Northumberland because some areas could benefit if more county council staff end up working there.”