COUNCIL: Frustrated by leadership

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Congratulations to Joyce Wotherspoon on her brilliant letter “A resident’s introduction”, (Morpeth Herald, July 28).

It would have been laugh out loud funny had not the overall message been so depressingly accurate.

Joyce does well to warn new residents of what they will be taking on, as no doubt developers will be doing their utmost to ensure they see everything through rose-tinted glasses.

Not that Morpeth people are likely to be unwelcoming to new residents. We are warm-hearted people and would welcome them to take part in our social and cultural life and bring some youthful and energetic input into our community.

Hopefully, in due course, they will also become engaged in helping us to do battle for a better deal for Morpeth.

Some things referred to by Joyce are not within the remit of local councillors to influence, such as rental level for private property, whether shops decide to close, or privately owned buildings stand empty. If Joyce is referring to the Queen’s Head, the hotel is not up for sale and a planning application has been submitted to demolish and rebuild while retaining the façade. I refrain from comment at this time.

A recent feasibility study was completed re a new arts and heritage centre for Morpeth and local councillors support the idea, although we need organisations such as the Greater Morpeth Development Trust, which is supported by the town council each year, to attract funding.

The Neighbourhood Plan, for which Morpeth Town Council is the Qualifying Body and which came into legal force last May, referred to the need for a new leisure centre and art, performance and heritage centre, and included a policy on the topic. That is because your local councillors understand what is needed and listened to the results of consultation on what the community wanted.

Your current local councillors, town and county, are working to ensure that the county council bears this in mind when deciding upon its so-called plan for Morpeth, about which county has refused an invitation to attend a public meeting.

Joyce referred to whether local councillors should be re-elected, or not, to continue their places on decision making committees next term. I, therefore, believe it is appropriate to make it clear exactly what is happening to Morpeth and the surrounding areas.

Due to the weight of population in Northumberland being in the south east, Labour is the largest party on the county council and, with support of ‘Independents’ such as Coun Ian Lindley, who represents Stobhill, can vote through whatever it wishes. In fact, the Cabinet system means that many decisions, such as the County Hall move to Ashington, are made by Cabinet without the rest of the councillors even having an opportunity to debate, let alone vote on the matter. It appears that the leadership rarely bothers to consult with local county councillors.

Furthermore, Labour in the county council appears to have “spat the dummy out” since the people of Morpeth rejected its proposed use of the County Hall site for a crammed in super-school and leisure centre. It appears to have not only given up on Morpeth, but has determined to sell off sites in the town and take the majority of the money elsewhere.

The whole thing is very frustrating and a cause of considerable anger amongst most local councillors and the public.

We need the county Labour leadership to acknowledge its duty to protect the interests of our town, even if it can only understand the very practical and obvious reason that county made Morpeth a focus for residential growth. The levels of growth envisaged require appropriate infrastructure across the board, and this necessitates careful planning for the short, medium and long-term.

It has to forget its political motivations and act upon its duties as a Local Planning Authority and consider the consequences of the planning polices it puts in place.

Believe me, some of your local councillors have been working their socks off try to defend Morpeth’s interests and will continue to do so. I have repeatedly drawn attention to the anger in the town and pressed for effective consultation and liaison.

Perhaps it would be useful if the public demonstrated to the Labour leadership that what I have been saying is true by writing personal letters and emails to the Leader, Coun Grant Davey, expressing politely, but firmly, your views.

Joan Tebbutt

Morpeth Town Councillor