Councillors raise concerns about County Hall’s future

One of the signs inviting bids for the County Hall site in Morpeth.
One of the signs inviting bids for the County Hall site in Morpeth.

Morpeth’s county councillors have reacted to the news that the Labour administration is inviting private firms to make offers for the County Hall site in Loansdean.

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, along with a new leisure centre, once it moved its headquarters to Ashington.

But The Three Rivers Learning Trust and governors of the King Edward VI Foundation raised concerns about it during a consultation and last week the authority said the plans have been scrapped and it is now ‘testing the market’ for the site to establish its value and how much interest there is from prospective purchasers.

Morpeth Kirkhill member Andrew Tebbutt said: “I’m extremely annoyed that the administration has produced a development brief without discussing it with fellow council members. They didn’t even tell me and County Hall is in my ward.

“Through the Morpeth Forum we have tried to work constructively on the future use for the site and to agree to market testing all of a sudden is appalling. I’m very concerned because if any housing went on the site, this would be contrary to the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan.”

He added that a re-build for Morpeth First School must not be abandoned and he will continue to try to work with the administration and officers to “find a solution in the best interests of Morpeth”.

Coun Ian Lindley, who represents the Morpeth Stobhill ward, has urged the Labour group to ensure that a new leisure facility will be built in the town following its announcement.

He said: “I am determined that this will not put at risk the pledge I had received from the administration to provide new leisure and cultural facilities for the town.

“This, I am sure, is what local people want – an investment in our cultural life as well as a new leisure centre to replace the tired facility at the riverside.

“We hear a lot about the council’s investment in market towns, but I want to see what this means to Morpeth.”

Morpeth North councillor David Bawn said: “In his usual high handed manner, the leader of the council has driven a coach and horses through on-going discussions with town stakeholders.

“The announcement that the County Hall site will now be marketed for sale before a contractor has even been found to build the new County Hall in Ashington reeks of desperation and panic.”