Rumours of County Hall bid withdrawal

Northumberland County Council
 County Hall For Sale signs at Morpeth.
Picture by Jane Coltman
Northumberland County Council County Hall For Sale signs at Morpeth. Picture by Jane Coltman

The enterprise that applied to build new homes on the County Hall site is said to be ‘considering its position’ after the bid was called-in by the Government.

Following a process where Northumberland County Council’s Labour administration invited bids, a proposal was put forward by Home Group to build up to 200 new homes at the local authority’s current headquarters site in Loansdean.

Plans were also lodged for a new supermarket, retail units, drive-thru restaurant and a pub on the former fire station and Merley Croft sites and by the council to relocate Morpeth First School to the front of County Hall.

They were approved by the strategic planning committee, but last month, it was confirmed that Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government, had called-in all three proposals.

He will make a decision following a public inquiry.

Home Group declined to comment in response to rumours, which started circulating over the weekend, that it had pulled-out of its bid.

However, a county council spokesman said: “We are aware that Home Group is considering its position following the call-in of the planning decision on the County Hall site, but we have not yet been formally advised of its decision.

“The council is concerned that a major capital receipt is potentially at risk as a result of the call-in by the Secretary of State.”

In response to this statement, Richard Wearmouth – Conservative Candidate for Kirkhill – said: “This application was unsustainable, unwanted and dreamt up by the Labour-run county council in an attempt to justify its expensive relocation of County Hall to Ashington.

“The news leaves council leader Grant Davey’s plans for the County Hall relocation easy to undo.”

Meanwhile, two Labour councillors have submitted a standards complaint over the County Hall move to Ashington, accusing the Conservative group of being ‘purveyors of fake news’.

Coun Brian Gallacher (Haydon ward in Ashington) and Coun Gordon Webb (Isabella ward in Blyth) have criticised their political opponents for saying the relocation would cost £80million.

They reference senior council officers, including chief executive Steven Mason, saying the capital cost of the scheme is in the order of £32million.

Tory group leader Coun Peter Jackson said the £80million figure is the total cost when matters such as the purchase of the site, utility connections, roadways and sufficient car parking for the staff that are expected to work in the new building are taken into account.

Coun Webb said: “The Conservative group has been corrected in public by the independent CEO about the use of fake figures, yet its members continue to use fake news to peddle their brand of setting communities against each other.”

Coun Jackson said: “Every resident I’ve talked to about this up and down the county has told me that the scheme is a colossal waste of public money.”

A county council spokesman said: “The council has received a formal complaint.

“A decision as to whether it merits any further action will not be taken until after May 4, 2017. We will be making no further comment until after this time.”