Reaction to radical review of council sites

Morpeth Chantry.
Morpeth Chantry.

Community representatives have been giving their reaction to radical plans to reorganise Morpeth’s public buildings.

The Herald revealed proposals last week for a re-think of several county council controlled premises in the town, with plans to move Morpeth’s high, middle and at least one first school to the County Hall site in Loansdean, along with leisure facilities.

A new riverside development would be created on the library, The Willows and Beechfield plots in Gas House Lane, with library services moving into The Chantry.

Executive Headteacher of The Three Rivers Learning Trust, which runs King Edward VI School and Chantry and Newminster middle schools, Simon Taylor said: “I really welcome the opportunity to look at the schools’ estate in Morpeth to provide top class facilities for the children to learn in.

“We work very hard to keep our existing buildings and facilities in good condition, but the three schools are of an age where it is increasingly difficult to do that.

“It is exciting that the local authority is looking to invest in both education and leisure, and I wait with interest to see what the feasibility study will demonstrate.

For the town centre buildings it is worrying to think that they could be rehashed quite quickly, regardless of what happens at County Hall.

Kim Bibby-Wilson, Morpeth Antiquarian Society Vice-President and Director of the Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering

“It is about finding a way forward and how we can best support education and leisure in Morpeth over the next 30 years. The schools, the directors and the foundation governors are really interested in exploring this further with Northumberland County Council.”

However, concern has been raised about other aspects of the plan.

Morpeth Antiquarian Society Vice-President and Director of the Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering Kim Bibby-Wilson said: “The current library site and the buildings on the river are an obvious option for improving the cultural provision for the town. It does seem strange that the council wants to take that site out of the equation for some riverside development that it hasn’t defined.

“Then there is the proposal to move the County Library headquarters into The Chantry, a world-famous tourist attraction. There is no mention of how you can squeeze a quart into a pint pot. What would happen to the bagpipe museum and the craft centre? I would hate to think that Morpeth would reduce its tourist offer and possibly have the nature of any other community buildings jeopardised.

“It is interesting that there is no mention of accommodation for our Antiquarian local history collection, currently in exile in Newbiggin.

“The proposals for the County Hall site also seem unable to hold water, but for the town centre buildings it is worrying to think that they could be rehashed quite quickly, regardless of what happens at County Hall.

“The fact that the objections of parish and town councils now seem to be being sidelined in the proposals for changing the planning process is also an unsettling element.”

Morpeth town councillor David Clark, who has been campaigning to save The Willows, said: “Whether the riverside development is residential or commercial, at least one of The Willows or Beechfield buildings should be preserved. If it has a large glass box built onto it, so be it, as long as you could still see the original building. I’m all for progress, but we also have to preserve our heritage.”