County Hall report ‘full of holes’

The Northumberland County Council administration is suggesting that County Hall can be closed and a smaller headquarters can be set up in Ashington.
The Northumberland County Council administration is suggesting that County Hall can be closed and a smaller headquarters can be set up in Ashington.

A report outlining reasons for closing County Hall in Morpeth has been heavily criticised by a senior councillor.

The Strategic Options Review carried out for Northumberland County Council’s Labour-led administration looked at the merits of relocating staff away from the current buildings in Loansdean to a smaller corporate headquarters building in Ashington.

The Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups have raised concerns, but Labour believes the strategy – which also involves placing staff into other council-owned buildings across the county – is the best way forward.

The report says 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 adds that the present buildings at the site are too big for the authority’s 1,400 staff who currently work there due to new ways of working, and a relocation could save up to £13million over 25 years from lower running costs. The Ashington proposal would hold up to 1,000 staff.

It states that further detailed work is required, but Coun Peter Jackson, leader of the Conservative group, has disputed the initial figures.

He said: “This report is full of holes. The administration can’t tell me what the profile of the staff would be in four or five years’ time and no structural survey of County Hall has been carried out, so it’s impossible to come up with an accurate figure for future repairs.

“It has not compared like with like because the figures for County Hall was based on 1,400 staff whereas the building in Ashington is for 1,000 people, so it was always going to be cheaper. If you did a like with like assessment, it would be far more expensive to move to the palace they seem determined to build in their heartland area.

“No other options have been looked at, which shows that the move is politically motivated.”

In response, a Labour spokesman said: “What we’re proposing will see the public access council services more conveniently and we acknowledge the last administration’s decision to centralise services in Morpeth hit our towns hard.

“Coun Jackson and many of his group seem to have ‘forgotten’ their decision to close the Castle Morpeth Council Kylins headquarters to move to the inaccessible Longhirst Hall.

“We should also point to the decision by Coun Jackson’s government to slash the county budget by £130million over the next four years and his continued silence when asked to stand up for the county.”

At a policy board meeting on Tuesday, Liberal Democrat group leader Jeff Reid said Ashington “is not the right place” for a new headquarters if such a move takes place.

He added: “You have to think of the councillors who are going to be inconvenienced and we should be looking for land or buildings we already own.”

Council leader Grant Davey said the authority owns the land at the proposed site in Ashington.