A new County Hall option

A new option is on the table that could keep County Hall in Morpeth.

Northumberland County Council’s ruling Labour group is planning to shift the authority’s headquarters from Loansdean to Ashington to aid the town’s regeneration.

The Administration says that staying in the present base could cost more than £44million in repairs, maintenance and energy costs over 25 years, while moving to a new building could save £13million over the same period and bring in cash from land sales.

However, the figures have been disputed by opposition councillors and Morpeth member Andrew Tebbutt has put forward an alternative proposal to build a modern, smaller base on the former Morpeth Fire Station site, which sits along the road from the existing County Hall.

He said the land is already owned by the council and facilities in the current base, such as the Council Chamber and restaurant, could still be used.

Alternative uses for the existing building could include re-developing it as an extra care facility or conference centre and hotel, or selling the site for economic development.

Coun Tebbutt, who has submitted his report to the council’s Policy Board, said: “I have been promised that my option will be appraised and considered alongside the other options. I will wait to see if that actually happens.

“It just seems to me that this option is a viable alternative and it offers more to Morpeth. It also keeps the employment balance in Morpeth.

“I know the chamber of trade is concerned about losing County Hall, not so much for the impact on the retail economy, but because it will upset the balance of employment opportunities.

“For those people who don’t want to go into retail, but want to go into administration jobs and the like, County Hall offers a massive employment opportunity. The impact of losing that over the long-term could be quite serious.”

He added: “If the business case is worked out properly and it comes out very clearly that the option favoured of moving to Ashington is the best one in the overall business case then I can’t argue. I just don’t believe it can be.”

A petition organised by Morpeth Town Council, which raises a number of questions about the proposed County Hall closure, is due to close at the end of the month.

It calls on the county authority to publish all evidence justifying the closure in the interests of Morpeth and Northumberland residents, undertake a full business case review, include the site in ongoing planning policy consultation, and discuss how it will mitigate the impact on Morpeth.

To date, 555 people have signed it.

Morpeth town councillor David Parker, who proposed the petition, said: “The proposed closure of County Hall would threaten certain aspirations in the Neighbourhood Plan and raises issues of the whole viability of the town. It removes from the area the major employer therefore it may make Morpeth in the long-term unsustainable.

“What the town council has done in the petition is raise questions and ask the county council to justify what it is proposing in light of those.”

To sign the petition visit committees.northumberland.gov.uk/elps/entity/BGe4a0AAfKP9CKWJJyAil3R?searchreq=50 or follow the link on the Morpeth Town Council website.