Rumours of County Hall sell off for homes are ‘total fantasy’

County Hall, Northumberland County Council's Morpeth headquarters.
County Hall, Northumberland County Council's Morpeth headquarters.

SUGGESTIONS of selling off County Hall for the development of 2,000 houses have been dismissed as ‘total fantasy’.

The South Morpeth Coalition (SMC) residents’ group, which has been leading the fight against housing plans for a greenfield site at Loansdean, has said that it would strongly oppose large-scale development at the county council headquarters.

And members say that it would be physically impossible to fit 2,000 homes on to the site.

The idea had been suggested by the council’s Labour Administration as it revealed plans to sell off the land in a cost-cutting drive.

However, after carrying out detailed calculations, SMC says that at least 55 hectares would be needed for development of such scale, whereas the total land available at County Hall, including greenfield areas, is just 11 hectares.

It estimates that a maximum of 370 units could be built, including the County Hall brownfield site, land east of Southgate Wood, Queen Elizabeth Way and land next to the former fire station.

SMC member David Holden said: “The Administration’s statement that County Hall land has the potential for 2,000 units to be built is a total fantasy.

“Even if it does go ahead with the plan to sell County Hall, which we hope won’t happen, building 2,000 houses there wouldn’t be possible — 200 houses might be more realistic for the brownfield site, at most.”

The SMC’s findings come from studies of other approved and potential housing sites in the area.

It says that a high density apartment development such as the Charles Church scheme at The Kylins, which has 36 units per hectare, would require 55 hectares of brownfield land for 2,000 homes.

But the average density of proposed greenfield development at Loansdean and Stobhill is 25 units per hectare, meaning that around 80 hectares would be required.

The greenfield site beside County Hall, east of Southgate Wood, could only accommodate 70 houses as there would have to be a buffer for the railway line, pond and Catch Burn, and land south of Merley Gate is safeguarded for the potential construction of a link road between Loansdean and Stobhill.

The coalition says that high rise development has to be ruled out as any scheme would have to retain the town’s architectural character. “To have 2,000 houses on there is impossible, as we have shown,” said Mr Holden.

The Herald reported last week that the Administration is proposing to close the council headquarters and move staff into smaller town centre bases across Northumberland.

The Labour group said all options have to be considered as the council faces slashing £130million from budgets over the next four years due to Government funding cuts.

However, Mr Holden has warned that if plans come forward for any large-scale housing development at the site, even for 200 homes, they are likely to face strong opposition as many of the concerns surrounding Bellway’s proposed Loansdean development, such as infrastructure, congestion, road safety, housing need, flood risk and sewerage issues, would apply.

“Generally, we support brownfield development in South Morpeth, as long as it is appropriate, but 200 houses would still seem a large amount for this area,” he said.

“Normally we are talking about small amounts of infill housing on brownfield sites.

“Loansdean and the County Hall site are opposite each other so everything that we have been talking about in relation to the Loansdean site applies to County Hall, apart from that fact that the Loansdean site is outside the settlement boundary and it is greenfield. County Hall itself is brownfield, but the field next to it is greenfield and people would be vehemently opposed to any development there, as they have been in the past. An application to build on that site before was defeated by going to the Secretary of State.

“We will be watching developments very closely indeed.”

The Northumberland Labour group says that £10million of investment would be needed to bring County Hall up to modern workplace standards, while its energy bills are £450,000 a year.

Council officers are currently examining the business case for selling off the premises.