Pressure piles on for County Hall re-think

County Hall, Morpeth.'REF 2008145303
County Hall, Morpeth.'REF 2008145303

Town councillors have come out fighting in the battle to save County Hall.

Members of Morpeth Town Council voted unanimously to adopt a motion without notice calling for a halt to sell-off plans for the Loansdean site and a cross=party, cross-county re-think.

They echoed the concerns of Northumberland County Council’s economic scrutiny committee about the proposed relocation of the authority’s headquarters to Ashington, as reported in the Herald last week.

And they said that due to the financial implications of such a move, the matter must be referred to the full county council, rather than a decision being taken by its Labour-dominated Policy Board alone.

The town council also reiterated its objection to the Loansdean base being sold for housing, saying it was ‘an unsustainable location’ and would be in contravention of the National Planning Policy Framework. Members instead called for economic development if the site is sold, such as a hotel and conference centre.

Coun David Parker, who put forward the motion, said: “The county council at the moment is failing in its strategic planning responsibilities in relation to Morpeth. There is a big danger that the location of housing in the town will be decided by developers, rather than the council.

“This town council is very resistent to the idea of further housing in the south of Morpeth. We have a perfectly good site in the north and that is where it should go.

“For at least 15 years the county council’s planning officers have seen the north as where future development should go, and only two years ago used that as a major argument to try to get the strategic link road approved.

“Whatever else it does, if the county council goes to Ashington or not, what it must not do is sell this site for housing. This must not be a dormitory town.”

The county’s Labour Administrations announced earlier this year that it was planning to shift the headquarters to Ashington to regenerate the town, saying the existing Morpeth base needs millions spent on repairs and improvements and is unsuitable for modern working.

But consultants’ reports claiming £100million in benefits for the two towns of such a move came under fire at last week’s scrutiny committee, with the figures shown to apply to the region as a whole and errors highlighted in the housing calculations.

The committee recommended any decision on relocation be put off for further examination of the reports by members of all political groups, taking into account the impact on the emerging Core Strategy, and asked for close liaison with Morpeth Town Council and the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group.

The issue is due to be decided at the county’s Policy Board on Tuesday.

But town and county member Andrew Tebbutt told the town council it should have to go before all councillors.

“The Local Government Act requires councils to bring policy and financial matters or budget implications to the full council for approval,” he said.

“I can’t think of anything that has more budget, financial and policy implications than moving County Hall to Ashington and selling the existing site.”

Fellow Morpeth county councillor David Bawn said: “I think it is right that the town council should be supporting anything that is going to make saner heads at County Hall stand up and say that this County Hall proposal is wrong.”