Administration hits back on issue of hall move costs

The current County Hall site in Morpeth, which will be demolished and re-developed if the move project goes ahead.
The current County Hall site in Morpeth, which will be demolished and re-developed if the move project goes ahead.

The group in charge at Northumberland County Council has insisted that building a new headquarters in Ashington is the best option.

An officer report about plans to move County Hall from its current Morpeth location said the preferred scheme of the Labour administration would be significantly cheaper over a 25-year period than staying put and modernising the buildings.

According to the figures, it would also be more than £3million less expensive than combining the refurbishment with reducing the size of the premises at Loansdean or a new build on the former fire station site nearby.

But at a recent cabinet meeting, Conservative group leader Peter Jackson questioned the numbers.

He said some of the estimated capital receipts and revenue savings were ‘extremely optimistic’ and the costs mentioned for improving the existing buildings were for a re-build, in his group’s opinion, rather than a refurbishment.

The Labour group has called on Coun Jackson to provide specific evidence that the costs in the report are incorrect and it is also highlighting that the move is part of its strategy to reduce the number of workers at its headquarters to enable more of its jobs to be spread out among’s Northumberland’s market towns.

Council leader Grant Davey said: “The Tory Government has slashed the council’s budget by over a third, yet they want to stop us making savings.

“As well as the questions about the opposition to the savings we will make, why is he and his party against more jobs for Hexham, Alnwick and Berwick?

“We know they’ve got form attacking the south east, but why are they now trying to undermine economic opportunities for the towns in the north and west?”

A full council debate and vote on the issue that was set to take place on December 2 was taken off the table. Councillors will now decide whether or not to give the move the green light in February as part of the budget deliberations.

This was criticised by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups and moves are under way to call-in this action on the grounds that when the issue was discussed by a scrutiny committee, it was under the impression that the full council debate on December 2 was going ahead.