Council calls for rethink on future of prime sites

The current County Hall site in Loansdean, Morpeth, has been put on the market by Northumberland County Council. Picture by Jane Coltman.
The current County Hall site in Loansdean, Morpeth, has been put on the market by Northumberland County Council. Picture by Jane Coltman.

Town councillors have urged the administration at County Hall to go back to the drawing board over two key sites.

Earlier this month, Northumberland County Council announced that it was putting its current headquarters in Loansdean and the Riverside area on the south side of Gas House Lane on the market.

It has produced development briefs for both, but they have been heavily criticised by Morpeth Town Council.

Members unanimously agreed at a meeting last week to call for the documents to be withdrawn for redrafting in liaison with the Morpeth Forum that includes representatives from town organisations and county officials.

Concerns raised about the County Hall brief include it saying residential development and a supermarket facility as part of a mixed-use scheme would be ‘viewed favourably’ and ‘be of benefit to the range of services available to the surrounding community’ respectively.

As for the Riverside – which includes the current location for the library, the Willows, Beechfield and Bungalows buildings and The Terrace car park – members think much more can be done to market the site as a potential multi-purpose hub that would be attractive to residents and visitors.

After the meeting, the town council’s planning and transport committee chairman Joan Tebbutt said: “There doesn’t seem to be an overall constructive plan for the sites and we think Morpeth organisations need to be involved in the production of a wider development framework.

“The brief for the Riverside does not sell the potential inspiration and excitement over what could be achieved on this site – we believe it should encourage creative and flexible development that could meet a range of needs in this growing town.

“When it comes to County Hall and the mention of a supermarket as part of a mixed-use scheme, the brief does not mention national planning policy that looks to protect the viability and vitality of town centres and it was on this basis that applications for supermarkets south of Stobhill and at Coopies Lane were rejected and the building of the new Morrison’s store adjacent to the town centre was approved. “The needs of Morpeth are above party politics. We need to work together.”

Morpeth Town Council has asked county council leader Grant Davey to attend a meeting of the Morpeth Forum as soon as possible.

The County Hall development brief says residential use of all or part of the site would be viewed favourably ‘given the predominantly residential character of the area immediately surrounding the site’.

But Coun Tebbutt said town councillors believe there are already more than enough new homes proposed in the county council’s core strategy and so a housing scheme at the site ‘would constitute gross over-development of the town’.

Coun Davey said: “Investing in towns like Morpeth is key to regenerating the county.

“But when every penny counts, it makes no sense keeping on buildings and sites which we no longer need and which are in essence costing us money.

“Part of the marketing process is the preparation of development briefs for the sites involved, which are used to provide prospective purchasers with an indication of acceptable future uses of land and buildings, and identify any significant constraints that would need to be considered as part of future redevelopment proposals.

“They are intended only to inform the marketing exercise and all subsequent development proposals would be subject to the normal planning application process.

“While we are committed to keeping partners and stakeholders informed of developments, it was important that we kept up momentum with this initiative and moved forward to the next stage for the benefit of everyone in Northumberland, its economy and jobs.”