Calls to halt plans to relocate council HQ

County Hall, Morpeth.'REF 2008145303
County Hall, Morpeth.'REF 2008145303

Council leaders have been told to stop their plans for a relocation of County Hall.

Proposals were announced by Northumberland County Council’s Labour Administration earlier this year to move the authority’s headquarters from Morpeth to Ashington.

But this week councillors said consultants’ reports on the issue were flawed and any decision should be deferred for further cross-party, cross-county examination of the options.

The Economic Prosperity and Strategic Services Scrutiny Committee voted four to three to recommend deferment to the authority’s Policy Board.

It followed objection to the relocation from Morpeth town councillor David Parker and local resident David Holden, who questioned the figures supporting a move and said there would be no overall benefit from extra retail spend in Ashington as it would be displaced from other towns.

Scrutiny member Andrew Tebbutt led the calls to halt the decision.

He said the consultants had not properly considered the option of refurbishing the existing Loansdean building, the central location and accessibility of Morpeth, or the impact of selling off County Hall for housing on Morpeth, or the wider Core Strategy for Northumberland, which would suffer further delays.

He questioned the suitable of the site for housing, and said it could jeopardise development in the preferred northern part of the town and put the Morpeth Northern Bypass bid, which would benefit south east Northumberland and Ashington in particular, at risk.

Coun Tebbutt added that trying to regenerate Ashington from public funds alone would fail, that inadequate parking space had been considered in any move, and that there was no evidence it would improve working conditions or staff morale.

He said: “There are all sorts of reasons why the proposal is in my view premature and should be withdrawn. The reports from GVA and ERS have serious flaws, therefore the conclusions they have reached cannot be valid.

“What we do as members, what the council’s Policy Board does, is crucial. Please stop, defer, take time, re-think, listen, show that we are capable of being sensible politicians, not just politically biased.”

Coun Dougie Watkin seconded his proposal, saying that now was not the time to spend millions of pounds on a new council headquarters when the future of local government is uncertain amid talks about regional devolution following the Scottish referendum.

But Coun Lynne Grimshaw said: “I totally disagree. I think the relocation to Ashington is a win-win situation for everybody. This is non-political.”

The recommendation for deferment will go to the council’s Policy Board on October 7.