Morpeth lags behind in county investment

Almost £76million has been invested by a council development company — but only £268,000 has come to Morpeth.

Arch was established by Northumberland County Council three years ago as an arms-length company to drive economic development, regeneration and business growth.

What Arch is doing in this short time should be compared with what it might do in five or ten years.

Andrew Tebbutt, Morpeth Kirkhill Member

Since then it has invested £75.7million, but the vast majority — £60.26million — has been spent in south east Northumberland, including almost £22million in Blyth and more than £18million in Ashington, in addition to £21million of council support for a new leisure centre there.

The figures compare with £13.57million spent in north Northumberland, including Morpeth, and £1.9million in the west of the county.

Morpeth has seen the lowest investment of the market towns.

Northumberland Conservative Group Leader Peter Jackson said: “Investment in Northumberland is welcome, but I would prefer that it was done on a more equal basis.

“Even looking at the £60million in south east Northumberland, it is the towns of Blyth and Ashington that dominate. Across Northumberland people feel short-changed by this.

“The justification is not there any more. The latest employment figures for Blyth and Ashington are down to nearly five per cent, which is roughly the average for the whole of Northumberland.

“Morpeth, in particular, is worthy of comment because the council Administration is taking 1,000 jobs out of Morpeth by moving County Hall and putting precisely nothing back.”

Coun Jackson also raised concerns that Arch is investing outside the county.

“It is using Northumberland taxpayers’ money to invest in properties outside the boundaries of Northumberland in Tyneside and Durham,” he said.

“The question people should be asking is what is it doing expanding its remit?”

However, Liberal Democrat Andrew Tebbutt, for Morpeth Kirkhill, said judgment should be reserved.

“What Arch is doing in this short time should be compared with what it might do in five or ten years,” he said.

“If over that period it is investing in only one part of the county I would have a great deal of concern, but at the moment it is taking what opportunities it can to promote growth and I wouldn’t criticise it for that, even if it is not particularly beneficial to Morpeth.

“At this stage I am not getting over-excited about what it is spending in the south east. It is probably where the most regeneration is needed.”

Arch Chairman Dave Ledger said: “Arch supports the council objective to bring major investment throughout the county in industrial, commuter and rural areas, as set out in the new Northumberland Economic Strategy.

“This includes developments in the north and west of Northumberland, including around £6million investment in industrial estates in Hexham and Prudhoe and over £5million in Berwick on commercial office developments. There’s also countywide schemes, such as the Regional Growth Fund and digital business support.

“With reference to investments outside the county, it’s important to make clear that all profits are invested back into development projects in Northumberland.

“It’s a shame that Coun Jackson has made these comments as he himself is a member of the board and sits on the audit committee.”