Fund-raising for another fight against Morpeth developments

The community has donated almost £9,000 in less than a week to a fighting fund to combat the proposals for the County Hall site in Morpeth.

Thursday, 8th December 2016, 6:57 am
Updated Wednesday, 14th December 2016, 12:33 pm
The ongoing demolition of the fire station and Merley Croft sites, near County Hall in Morpeth.

The crowd-funding bid was set up by David Holden, a leading member of the South Morpeth Coalition, and, as of yesterday afternoon, had raised £8,840 of its £10,000 target.

It will be used to pay for planning consultancy and legal advice as they object to two of the three schemes planned for the key site at Loansdean.

The masterplan for the whole area, unveiled late in October, includes a new Morpeth First School to the front of the site, a commercial element and a housing development of up to 200 homes.As we reported last week, the full application for the retail and leisure aspect of the overhaul, on the former fire station and Merley Croft sites, has now been submitted.

The mixed-use development will include retail floorspace, a food store, a drive-thru restaurant and a family pub/restaurant.

This plan going in meant that the funding efforts had to start now and it is understood that an application for the new homes is not far behind.

Mr Holden said: “We decided to fight these two applications. We are supportive of the school because Goosehill needs to be replaced and this is the best site left.

“We have started off fantastically well and it’s been a very generous response so far.

“It shows the strength of feeling in the community.

“It’s a diverse community and people have given what they can, but it shows that everyone is in it together.”

“The consultants have ignored the views of the residents and put the application in a few days later,” he said.

“The Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan is entirely against the use of two of the three applications that are proposed.”

The crowdfunding site can be found at Holden added: “It’s a concerted effort from across the town, it’s not just the south of the town, because it’s the neighbourhood plan which is under threat.”

A county-council spokeswoman said: “All views have been listened to and people will have a further opportunity to provide their input as part of the planning process.”

Mr Holden also said that the proposals, which he described as ‘inappropriate development’, were a ‘domino effect from the decision to move County Hall, which we were against as well’.

The row on the relocation of the council’s headquarters to Ashington is alive and well as a motion calling to delay ‘the signing of contracts for the construction of a new County Hall and the disposal of the current site in Morpeth until after the elections in May 2017’ went before county councillors at their full meeting yesterday afternoon.

Ahead of the debate, leader of the Conservative group, Coun Peter Jackson, a long-term critic of the move, claimed that a ‘previously-unseen council report says refurbishment works to the current authority headquarters in Morpeth would cost a maximum of £8million over five years – 10 times less than cost of the new building and far less than the original Labour claim for refurbishment of £22.5million, a figure with no credible basis’.

“It is absolutely shocking and a scandal that this report, as commissioned by the council, has not been presented as key information to the council or the cabinet,” he said.

“This massive expenditure of the public’s money on a Labour vanity project which cannot be justified in any way makes any amounts of money which might be raised from the sale of land pale into insignificance.”

However, his claims sparked the leader of the county council, Grant Davey, to release a lengthy statement (which can be read in full online), ‘to set the record straight regarding the many inaccuracies’.

The Labour leader says that the latest contractors’ figures ‘confirm that the new Ashington HQ will be delivered within the original estimate of £32.2million – that’s nearly £50million less than the Tories’ incorrectly-quoted £80million’.

His statement further said that the report referred to was not ‘hidden, previously unseen, suppressed nor kept from people living in Northumberland’ and that it did not quote for the same work as the detailed GVA document and is therefore ‘not a like-for-like comparison’.

Coun Davey added: “I look forward to the many advantages this sale will bring to hard-working residents all across this great county.”

Full statement from council leader Grant Davey

Vital decisions regarding regeneration and growth benefiting all the county’s residents should be based not on rumour and wilful misinformation, but on the facts alone – and here they are:

• The option to move into a smaller new build actually saves millions of pounds of Northumberland taxpayers’ money, not ‘wastes’ it as claimed – business case data shows that it will be around £25million cheaper than refurbishment of the current unsuitable building in Morpeth over 25 years;

• Latest contractors’ figures confirm that the new Ashington HQ will be delivered within the original estimate of £32.2million – that’s nearly £50million less than the Tories’ incorrectly-quoted £80million, which actually is the cost of the total project for the area including the Portland Park highways network, town-centre roads and future, non-council buildings;

• The Faithful and Gould report was not ‘hidden’, ‘previously unseen’, ‘suppressed’ nor ‘kept from people living in Northumberland’ as incorrectly alleged – the report was provided to Conservative member for Bellingham, Coun John Riddle on February 29, 2016, after a request at the economic and corporate services scrutiny committee earlier that month for the last condition survey of County Hall;

• That report did not quote for the same work as the detailed GVA document (which incidentally costed it as £21.2million not £22.5million as the Tories claim incorrectly). Hence it is not a like-for-like comparison: F&G estimated just for maintenance and statutory upgrading – GVA included the necessary stripping back to shell plus building changes for updated working practices, replacement fittings and furniture, contingency and inflation funds ie, a full costing, not the Tories’ partial picture;

• The allegation of the £21million having ‘no credible basis’ is simply utter rubbish; it was a key part of the business case for the move, independently audited and endorsed by Ernst & Young, one of the biggest professional services organisations in the world. It could not have a more authoritative endorsement and financial justification;

• And finally, I turn to Coun Jackson’s claim that the administration’s case for the county-wide investments that will result from selling County Hall is somehow ‘blown out of the water’ by his string of deliberately inaccurate allegations. Now that you have the clear and unambiguous facts, you can see that the reasons for moving to a more cost-efficient base are in fact watertight.

I look forward to the many advantages this sale will bring to hard-working residents all across this great county.