COUNCIL: Defending indefensible

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I have just read two publications featuring an interview with Grant Davey, Leader of Northumberland County Council. In my opinion, Coun Davey had the problem of attempting to defend the indefensible.

No doubt in the past four years there has been some progress on some projects, largely, I suspect, because of cross-party support.

I accept also that as Leader, Coun Davey needs to take a broader view of the needs of the whole county, rather than the possibly more ‘parochial’ views of town councils.

As an Ashington lad from a mining family, I appreciate moves to regenerate that town — it needs and deserves improvements to its infrastructure and employment opportunities. Where I take great issue with Coun Davey is that such regeneration should not be to the total detriment of its neighbour, Morpeth, where I currently live.

The decision to close County Hall in Morpeth is merely the last in a string of decisions made by the council that I feel are destroying the character of Morpeth as a long-established rural market town.

Despite protestations to the contrary by Coun Davey, the decision to move County Hall does seem to have political motivation and was taken without any fully-costed consideration of retaining and upgrading the present building.

Coun Davey seems to assume that the proposed relocation of Goosehill School to that site is a ‘done deal’. At a well attended meeting in the Town Hall this project was seen as perhaps the only viable solution, but was unpopular. It was only deemed worthy of consideration because Goosehill does need to be relocated, albeit to an unsatisfactory site to the south of the town because alternative, preferable sites have been sold off to developers.

The council has repeatedly failed to oppose such developments and in some cases has fully supported them. It appears to have been happy to accept the immediate financial ‘fix’ afforded by land sales, rather than consider the medium to long-term needs of the town.

The most recent action by the council, taken with apparent contempt for the views of residents, has been the felling of perfectly healthy trees at County Hall “in anticipation of a rapid start to the building of the new school”. So much for the council’s oft-repeated excuse for not commenting on planning applications because they are “active”.

Actions do speak louder than words, Coun Davey, and the council’s actions in instigating the destruction of these trees gives the electorate a very clear indication of the developments your administration wants on that site. Your refusal to engage in meaningful dialogue with the town council and your failure to face the protesting public on this issue simply reinforce this impression.

If you were so concerned about “birds nesting”, the logical thing would have been to leave the trees untouched so that extra nesting sites would be available for another year.

The same attitude is shown in the intention to go ahead with the strategic planning meeting on March 7 to discuss all three planning applications for the County Hall site, despite the fact that this is two days before the expiry of the statutory consultation period, during which the public can comment on or object to the proposals, or, indeed, support them. What message do you think this premature action conveys to Morpeth residents?

I will, however, congratulate Coun Davey on a single matter as he has managed to achieve something which nobody else has ever done in my 55 years of voting — he has convinced me to vote Tory, at least in the forthcoming local elections.

This will be totally at odds with any political ideology I may have, but it is perhaps my only realistic hope of ensuring that the current administration will no longer have overall control of Northumberland County Council. I, like many other Morpeth residents, feel completely disenfranchised by the present regime.

The gesture is probably doomed to failure thanks to the travesty of having ‘unitary authority’ status imposed on Northumberland some years ago, with 95 per cent of the population residing in five per cent of land in the south east of the county, but at least it is a way of registering my disgust at the administration.

So, fellow Morpethians, however much you feel you are suffering from ‘protest fatigue’, I would urge you keep protesting by any peaceful and democratic means.

To paraphrase Edmund Burke, remember that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of unwarranted planning applications is for good men to do nothing”.

Dr Jared Johnson

Morpeth