Traders fears over relocation of County Hall

Business leaders fear for the future of Morpeth’s economy under plans to move its biggest employer out of town.

The Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade has called for more information on proposals by Northumberland County Council’s Labour Administration to move the authority’s headquarters from Loansdean to Ashington.

Supporters say the switch would boost Ashington’s regeneration, as well as cut council costs, but businesses want more details.

Chamber spokesman John Beynon said: “We haven’t got all of the details of the proposal so we are going to be asking the Labour Administration for that. At the moment we are against the closure, but we need more financial details.

“Our concern is about taking away 1,400 jobs at County Hall. We recognise that the Labour group is proposing this is for the regeneration of Ashington, but what is it going to do to help Morpeth if it is going to be losing that amount of jobs? We need to know what the proposals are for that.

“We will also be asking the same questions of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.”

Member Ken Stait said that even if County Hall remains in Morpeth, the town should look to diversify its employment offer.

“They are talking about 1,400 jobs going out of the town. If it was a factory closing we would be absolutely devastated, but there seems to be a different attitude because they are county council jobs,” he said.

“We need to have some sort of employment prospects for young people. We are too reliant on the county council and retail, we need more diverse employment.”

Conservative Group Leader Peter Jackson said: “We are critical of Labour plans to move County Hall. There has been an attempt to prove that it is economically viable, but there are so many fundamental faults in the report that it is not worth the paper it is written on. There are other options that should be looked at in detail, in particular building a smaller County Hall in Morpeth.

“There is no doubt from Northumberland Conservatives that the heart of the county council needs to be in the geographical heart of Northumberland.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Andrew Tebbutt said: “I certainly don’t think County Hall should move to Ashington. They have to prove a business case for that and I doubt they can. I think they have got the figures drastically wrong, particularly the cost of bringing alternative offices into being.

“This doesn’t make sense for Morpeth and it doesn’t make sense for the rural area of Northumberland.”