Anger over £36m deal for retail park

Westmorland Retail Park in Cramlington
Westmorland Retail Park in Cramlington

Opposition councillors have called the latest purchase of a shopping centre a ‘reckless punt’.

Conservative members on Northumberland County Council have serious concerns after the council’s development agency spent £36m buying Westmorland Retail Park, just months after buying Manor Walks shopping centre for more than £70m.

Group leader, Coun Peter Jackson, said: “This move is simply chasing away private-sector investment in our county and will not create a single extra job opportunity.

“Along with the £80m white-elephant new County Hall in Ashington project, this county council is taking on a mountain of debt with no idea of it being paid back.”

Coun Wayne Daley, Conservative county councillor for Cramlington North, added: “Cramlington residents are horrified by this gamble with their cash.

“The county council has cut a fire engine and crew from Cramlington to save £120,000, made the library little more than a couple of shelves on a wall in the leisure centre and hit residents with up to 60 per cent increases in leisure-centre charges.”

A county council spokesman said: “This purchase is more excellent news for Cramlington and the wider south-east Northumberland area.

“The purchase will allow Arch to own a profitable commercial and property portfolio while also widening up opportunities to invest in and enhance Cramlington town centre, including improved parking and a possible move of the railway station.”

The spokesman added: “The loan arrangement is win-win as far as residents and the council are concerned.

“It will not only allow growth and regeneration and protect local amenities, but repayment of the loan by Arch at a higher rate than the council paid will generate a surplus that will support frontline council services and protect jobs.

“It forms a further part of our investment jigsaw at Cramlington which has seen over 120 council jobs located in Northumbria House, £3.5m investment in the town’s leisure centre and library, a one-stop shop for council services, and over 100 further council jobs located around the town.

“With a massively reduced government grant and therefore shrinking budgets, the council has to look at ever more creative ways to protect services while ensuring investment in Northumberland.

“We are determined to enable investment in our market towns and make great places even better, and this is a shining example of this.”

A Labour group spokesperson said: “The reasons why Northumberland County Council invest in Arch and it’s investment in the Manor Walks/Westmorland site is simple.

“We have to generate profits to offset over £200m cuts imposed on Northumberland residents by Coun Daley and Jackson’s Conservative party.

“If we don’t generate profits then this puts at risk thousands of public and private sector jobs which are underpinned by the ‘Arch Dividend’.

“If the Conservatives have another idea about how to find over £200m then we look forward to their budget proposals in a months time.

“So far they’ve said no to everything Labour has proposed and until they tell the residents of Northumberland what they would propose then they are merely posturing for party political purposes with no thought to protecting and enhancing services or saving and creating jobs.”