New options on the table for County Hall site

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A new report has listed a range of options for the future of County Hall – and housing is not one of them.

Morpeth Town Council has unanimously approved a report by its County Hall Working Group that sets out a series of 13 recommendations over possible new uses for the Loansdean site.

We hope that the county council will seriously consider this report. It is all centred on what is best for Morpeth.

Joan Tebbutt

They include a hotel, leisure facility, arts, performance and heritage centre, employment use or schools’ campus.

But it expressly states that the plot must not be used for housing.

And at the outset, the authority states that while it has drawn up a list of possibilities, no new use is needed at all as it is fiercely opposed to plans to relocate the existing county council headquarters from the site to Ashington.

The report states: ‘Morpeth Town Council is unanimous in its opposition to the proposed move.

‘We have a duty to express, on behalf of Morpeth, our concern about the lack of a defensible business case, which means that the suggestion that the move would be in the best interests of Morpeth and the wider county has not been proven.

‘The potential loss to Morpeth is significant and the claimed economic benefits to Morpeth are dubious..’

It adds: ‘We believe there is more to such a significant decision than legality; the administration has a moral duty to the whole of the county and this should mean much greater discussion and consultation than has taken place so far.’

The working group was set up after Northumberland County Council announced its proposed move from the town.

Its report calls for more surveys and costings to be done to justify moving the council base, including costs of refurbishing the existing premises and staff relocation, and it highlights concerns that the suggested economic benefit to Morpeth was predicted on housing development at County Hall alone.

However, the group also met with various council officials, business leaders and local community groups to try to find positive opportunities should the county council go ahead with its relocation.

The aim is to ensure that Morpeth continues to be balanced and vibrant, with a mix of housing, employment and services, and adequate infrastructure.

It states that all aspects of town life must be considered “in a holistic manner”, and that while there are conflicting alternative uses suggested for the Loansdean site, they should lead to informed and constructive dialogue.

Group Chairman Joan Tebbutt said: “We hope that the county council will seriously consider this report. It is all centred on what is best for Morpeth.”

Recommendations call for the town and county council to jointly consider possible uses of the plot to achieve the best deal for Morpeth and ensure its future is considered strategically, rather than piecemeal.

They state that it must not be used for housing and should be retained for employment, without detriment to the town centre, with every effort made to market it as such.

There are also calls for additional employment land to be identified to improve the current imbalance between housing and jobs in the area, with funding allocated for research, marketing, business advice and financial incentives for regeneration.

The report calls for the potential of a hotel development at County Hall or other council owned sites in the town to be explored, with funding for marketing.

It states that there should be careful consideration by all interested parties of plans to relocate schools to Loansdean, as well as the feasibility of a leisure centre or arts and heritage centre at the site.

It also calls on the county council to consider car parking provision for Morpeth, and explore how other council-owned sites can be used to meet local needs.

Morpeth Mayor Nic Best added: “This is a constructive report that the town council has put together with a lot of input from a wide range of people.

“It is looking at possible options for the good of the town and the local community. We look forward to using it as a basis for talks with the county council.”