Anger after County Hall site is put on the market

Simon Taylor, executive headteacher of The Three Rivers Learning Trust.
Simon Taylor, executive headteacher of The Three Rivers Learning Trust.

Plans for County Hall in Morpeth will go back to the drawing board after proposals to bring together four Morpeth schools were scrapped.

Northumberland County Council had been seeking to create new buildings for King Edward VI School, Chantry and Newminster Middle Schools and Technology Colleges and Morpeth First School on the Loansdean site.

A new leisure centre was also proposed and the scheme would have cost in the region of £50million. But The Three Rivers Learning Trust and governors of the King Edward VI Foundation raised concerns about it during a consultation.

As a result, the authority will ‘test the market’ for the site to establish its value and how much interest there is from prospective purchasers.

It will also carry out this process for the Riverside site in Morpeth town centre, including the library, car park, Willows, Beechfield and Bungalows in this area.

The county council said earlier this week that the trustees of the foundation, which owns some of the land King Edward VI School is built on, did not wish to progress with the redevelopment.

Simon Taylor, executive headteacher at The Three Rivers Learning Trust, said on behalf of the trust’s directors: “The foundation governors are not responsible for the breakdown of the proposal.

“They own part of the land at the Cottingwood Lane site, and as a charitable trust have legal responsibilities and requirements that the county council was not able or prepared to meet.

“The learning trust and the foundation governors have tried to engage with the county council further, with a view to discussing alternative options which could have supported an improvement in educational facilities in Morpeth. 

“The council has chosen not to enter into any further discussion. We are disappointed that this has not been possible.

“Unfortunately, the proposal did not have our support for educational reasons and due to the significantly reduced site footprint, which was expected to accommodate four schools totalling 3,000 students and community leisure facilities.

“Particular concerns were the plan to locate the high school on floors two, three and four of the new building and significantly reduced outdoor sporting facilities.”

Meanwhile, the Conservative group has raised concerns about the costs of moving County Hall to Ashington after it saw a tender document that ranges from £35million to £80million.

This was mentioned in a section with a heading of Portland Park Development.

Group leader Coun Jackson said: “There have been regular incremental rises in the cost of this hapless project ever since it was proposed by the Labour-run council.

“After seeing this tender, residents have a perfect right to be seething mad at this absolute waste of public money, which will be double the original estimate if it does end up costing £80million.”

In response, the council’s deputy leader Dave Ledger said: “There has been no change to the costings for the new headquarters.

“The £35million figure relates to the combined potential contract sum for the new headquarters building, related car parking and highways infrastructure.

“The £80million figure is a calculation which represents the £35million, plus potential future development opportunities on the wider Portland Park site and has been used by Arch to give it a potential option to use the same contractor for such potential future development.”

On the schools issue, council leader Grant Davey said: “We are disappointed in the foundation’s response.

“While it suggested alternatives for the new schools and leisure facilities, unfortunately none involved the release of the King Edward VI School site, which would be needed to help build the new schools.”