County Hall relocation decision on hold

County Hall, Morpeth.
County Hall, Morpeth.

A decision on the relocation of County Hall from Morpeth to Ashington has been put on hold.

Members of Northumberland County Council’s Cabinet were expected to approve the move at a meeting tomorrow, before sending the report to the full council on July 1 for ratification.

We want to ensure that every aspect of these ambitious proposals has been taken as far as it can before we bring it before the full council.

Steven Mason, Northumberland County Council Chief Executive

But now it has been revealed that the authority has further work to complete on the plan for new headquarters.

The issue is believed to centre on the need to secure permission from landowner Harworth Estates and Network Rail to provide access to the proposed Ashington site.

Officers have also been instructed to draw up a revised business case for the move.

Council Leader Grant Davey said: “I’ve requested that the report be revisited and updated to reflect some concerns, particularly regarding the integration of new transport links, such as the Ashington-Blyth-Tyne line.

“We’re committed to delivering a value for money project, which will act as an economic spur for Ashington and Morpeth, but the spin-off will mean hundreds of council jobs moving back to market towns across Northumberland.

“Officers will now work on a revised report, which will be presented to the next possible Cabinet meeting.”

The plans are now unlikely to come before the full council before the autumn.

Conservative Group Leader Peter Jackson said: “What a dog’s breakfast this is.

“This whole project to move County Hall has been politically driven by the Labour Administration with no justification whatsoever. The lack of any proper planning is really starting to show up now.

“Not only has the cost of the project risen by 72 per cent over the last six months, but now potentially there are all sorts of other issues to resolve.

“I think the public can have no confidence whatsoever that Labour’s grand idea to spend £60million of public money over the lifetime of the project is going to be delivered on time or within budget.

“It is just a disaster from start to finish as far as I can see.”

Last month the Herald reported that the estimated build cost for a new council headquarters had risen from £19million to £27million, with a further £5.05million allocated for fit-out and £1.08million for parking provision.

Consultants have also revised the running costs of the new building to allow for an extra floor to be built, showing an increase from £22.71million to £26.59million over 25 years.

Council Chief Executive Steven Mason said: “We want to ensure that every aspect of these ambitious proposals has been taken as far as it can before we bring it before the full council.

“Our officers still needs to carry out some further technical work around parking provision at the Ashington site and this won’t be complete before Cabinet meet on June 9.

“Although all other aspects of these proposals are ready for consideration, it is in the best interests of everyone to consider these proposals in their entirety slightly later in the year.”