More on County Hall school and leisure plans

County Hall, Morpeth.
County Hall, Morpeth.

A blueprint to radically re-organise Morpeth and Ponteland has been unveiled by Northumberland County Council.

The authority has carried out a review of 89 buildings and assets across the county that, if approved, would completely re-shape the nine main towns of Morpeth, Ponteland, Alnwick, Ashington, Bedlington, Berwick, Blyth, Cramlington and Hexham.

It includes rebuilding schools and leisure centres, moving library services, and selling off existing sites for housing and other redevelopment.

The council says that overall there are opportunities to generate £27million in capital income, cut annual running costs by £3.4million, and support economic growth and regeneration.

The proposals were presented to the authority’s Policy Board yesterday.

Council Leader Grant Davey said: “It has been an important priority for the current administration to review the diverse property portfolio that is a legacy of the two-tier local government structure that came to an end in 2009.

The creative use of the council’s assets will play an important role in developing sustainable town centres that meet the needs and expectations of a growing local population.

Grant Davey, Leader of Northumberland County Council.

“The current use of our buildings in our main towns is an inefficient use of valuable assets and does not meet the modern access, or service quality expectations, of Northumberland’s residents.

“We believe that we can reduce costs, support town centre regeneration and re-design, and radically improve service access for residents at the same time.”

In Morpeth much of the re-organisation would depend on the council’s headquarters moving from Loansdean to Ashington to free up the existing site to create an education and leisure hub.

The town’s high, middle and at least one first school could be accommodated, along with leisure facilities, and there is the possibility of a shared performance and arts’ space being created.

Current sites would be sold for redevelopment.

Meanwhile, it is envisaged that Morpeth Library, The Willows and Beechfield House in Gas House Lane could be used for a ‘landmark riverside development’.

Library services and the council’s customer information service access point would in turn move to The Chantry, though no detail has been given on how the 13th Century, Grade I listed building, which currently houses Morpeth Bagpipe Museum and a craft centre, would be reconfigured to accommodate such facilities.

The plans are subject to an options appraisal, which is scheduled to be completed by summer 2016. If they are approved, changes could begin in January 2017, and the new schools could open in January 2019.

Coun Davey said: “The potential closure of County Hall presents a once in a lifetime opportunity to positively change how Morpeth town works and supports its residents and visitors.

“This, together with surplus council assets, means that radical and exciting proposals relating to education, leisure and the arts can be put on the table for discussion.”

In Ponteland the first, middle and high schools would be rebuilt and a new leisure centre would be created.

However, the education and leisure campus would be built on a greenfield plot, and the current sites would be released for housing.

Ponteland library would initially move to the existing leisure centre, but in the longer term it would be housed at the campus.

As with the Morpeth proposals, an options appraisal is planned, which will identify feasibility and time-scales.

Coun Davey said: “Critically in Ponteland the local schools, library and leisure centre are all buildings built in the 60s and 70s. They are tired and struggle to meet modern standards and customer expectations.

“New education and leisure facilities will act as a catalyst for positive change.”

The proposals for both areas would be subject to the planning process.

And Coun Davey said that full consultation will be carried out with residents, businesses and local organisations.

“These plans will develop in phases and I am keen to stress that we will consult stakeholders and residents in Morpeth and Ponteland to make sure the final accommodation plan supports local aspirations and the wider ambitions contained within the emerging neighbourhood plans.”

He added: “The towns of Morpeth and Ponteland are central to the economic growth plans of the county.

“In Morpeth the new homes proposed in the emerging Core Strategy, the construction of the Morpeth Northern Bypass and the opportunities created by the potential release of key sites as a result of the relocation of County Hall create exciting challenges for the future role of the town centre.

“Ponteland’s accessible location close to major transport routes, the airport and Newcastle city centre makes it central to the economic growth plans of the county.

“In both cases the creative use of the council’s assets will play an important role in developing sustainable town centres that meet the needs and expectations of a growing local population.”