The signs inviting private firms to make offers for the County Hall site in Morpeth were erected without planning permission, it has emerged.
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 on the Loansdean site, along with a new leisure centre.
But The Three Rivers Learning Trust and governors of the King Edward VI Foundation raised concerns about it during a consultation and earlier this 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.
After receiving complaints about the signs close to the buildings, some of which can be seen by motorists travelling along the A197, Morpeth Kirkhill councillor Andrew Tebbutt and Morpeth North councillor David Bawn asked if they had planning permission.
They were told that the application for them had not been validated due to ‘technical difficulties’.
Coun Bawn said: “Obviously it is embarrassing when the county council, as the statutory planning authority, fails to abide by its own rules.
“It would have cost nothing to make sure the legal position was correct before erecting these signs.
“This mistake once again demonstrates the undue haste and panic in which the council is ploughing forward with the move to Ashington.”
Coun Tebbutt said that the decision to test the market for County Hall is ‘appalling’ and if housing were to go on the site, it would be contrary to the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan.
He added: “I have to use the word incompetent to describe the signs being put in place without planning permission.”
The council stated that it is continuing to work with Morpeth First School about the potential for a new school and is also looking at other possible development opportunities for the County Hall site.
Of the signs issue, a spokesman for the authority said: “It is important we kept up momentum with the council’s market towns initiative.
“We are facing cuts of £58million over the next four years and need to do all we can to generate income and make savings, helping to protect frontline services.
“A planning application has been received for the signs and it will go through the normal process.”