County Hall closure plan to benefit South East

County Hall could be closed within four years as the council considers a move to Ashington.

Earlier this year, the Herald reported a suggestion by Northumberland County Council’s Administration to shut the Loansdean headquarters on the edge of Morpeth and move staff into smaller bases across the county.

Now a Strategic Options Review has outlined proposals to set up headquarters in Ashington for up to 1,000 staff as part of a £38million investment plan for the town.

The review states that staying at County Hall could cost more than £44milion over 25 years, with £18.5million needed for maintenance and capital works, and £26million in energy costs.

It says that the present building is too big for the council’s 1,400 staff who currently work there due to new ways of working, and a relocation could save £13million over 25 years from lower running costs.

It states that selling County Hall for housing development could generate £9million.

The total cost of relocation is estimated at £28million, including the capital receipt.

However, it advises that further detailed examination is needed.

The review will be presented to the council’s Policy Board on Tuesday and decisions are expected to be made by October.

Council Leader Grant Davey said: “The council is working in a challenging financial context – a significantly reduced budget means we have to change the way we do business, looking at everything we do and taking action to reduce costs and support local communities.”

However, other members are concerned about the impact on Morpeth.

Morpeth town and county councillor Andrew Tebbutt said: “This plan is in danger of turning Morpeth into a commuter town and that is not what an historic market town deserves.

“While I’m not opposed to change, I’m opposed to the destruction of a community for political opportunism.”

Coun Tebbutt accused the Labour group of putting the needs of its south east Northumberland heartland above those of other communities and failing to consider the impact on Morpeth’s economy of losing its biggest employer.

He also said there would be huge concern about housing development at the County Hall site as plans for the past 20 years have been geared around developing the north of the town.

Fellow county member David Bawn said: “The Labour Administration seems determined to proceed with this madcap scheme to sell County Hall and move central operations of the council to Ashington, despite refusing to provide any of the detail requested by myself and other councillors.

“The justification quoted is that this will provide savings of £13million over 25 years. I am very dubious about such figures, but even if we take on trust that this is accurate, Labour is planning to cause massive disruption and upheaval to its own staff, the Morpeth Local Plan and the Core Strategy to result in savings of a paltry £520,000 a year.”

He said almost half the savings could be made by axing plans for two new council director posts.

Morpeth town councillor David Parker said; “The town council asked the county council to justify this in business terms, but also in planning terms for the Core Strategy and Neighbourhood Plan. These proposals don’t answer that.”