A ‘JOKE’ response by Northumberland’s most senior councillor has sparked fury after he appeared to suggest that Alnwick’s bid for a new high school ‘depended’ on a controversial car parking strategy being approved by opposition councillors.
The comments were made yesterday by Northumberland County Council leader Jeff Reid in an email sent to Coun Gordon Castle, who represents the town and had requested that council money be made available for urgent work on the Duchess’s Community High School.
It followed an announcement by the Government that priority capital funding would be made available to repair or replace the country’s most dilapidated school buildings.
But in his reply, Coun Reid simply responded: “Depends on if we have a car parking strategy or not.”
That statement refers to the ongoing saga of parking charges in rural Northumberland, which will be debated at a make-or-break meeting at County Hall in Morpeth next week.
Coun Castle is also a member of the Conservative Group on the council which has heavily criticised the Liberal Democrat executive’s proposed strategy, where parking charges will remain in force in the likes of Alnwick and Morpeth, but not in the urban south east of the county.
He said: “I am astonished by this response to my request that money be made available to refurbish our local high school. Parking charges and school refurbishment are completely separate issues.
“It cannot be right that the Lib Dems threaten to block funding for crucial community assets unless they get their parking strategy approved. It is an abuse of the proper process of the council and a betrayal of children and teachers working in unacceptable conditions, in Alnwick and across the county.
“Coun Reid has since indicated that the comments were made in jest, but this raises the question of whether they should have been made in the first place.”
The comments drew a furious reaction from Tory leader Coun Peter Jackson, who said: “It beggars belief that the man who leads our council is threatening to withhold money from schools in order to force through the Lib Dem’s disastrous parking policy.
“Jeff Reid is dragging our council through the gutter by holding the future of local children hostage in pursuit of a Lib Dem political agenda.
“Coun Reid’s integrity as a public servant must now be questioned.”
The Gazette attempted to contact Coun Reid but he was unavailable.
However, an email sent by Coun Reid to Coun Castle yesterday stated the comment was intended as a joke and that the council should do all in its power to facilitate the high school in its pursuit of its share.