COUNTY HALL: Project is unjustified

It is a shame that Mr Wallace from Bedlington did not reveal that he is a Labour councillor, but it is clear from his comments that he does believe much of the rhetoric from his party, (News Post Leader, January 21).

The issue of a new County Hall in Ashington is an important one for all Northumberland residents as we will all be paying for this mistake for years to come.

One of the big pressures on county council funding is the capital spending by the Labour-run council. Because of this, in next year’s budget alone there will be a cut of £10m, and this extends to a £25m cut over three years. So much of the current situation is down to local choices.

This whole project is unwanted and unjustified and going up in price by the month. One has to ask is this a sensible use of public money by an authority which is in the process of reducing essential public services, such as the fire services in Cramlington and Haydon Bridge?

Most people have an idea that routine maintenance is required for the existing building in Morpeth, but not the claimed rebuild estimate of £12.38m. Despite the repeated calls of the Conservatives, there has been no structural survey of the building upon which to base this figure. There is simply no clear business case for this massive expenditure and upheaval.

In terms of the 25-year costs, Coun Davey is mistakenly taking into account office closures in Ashington. On a like for like basis the figures do not justify the expenditure.

There are many issues which have not been dealt with properly, for example, no proper appraisal of all of the options has been undertaken, no comprehensive estimate has been made of the cost of relocation, and there will only be 528 car parking spaces for a building housing 1,300 staff – a recipe for serious congestion.

I do agree with the council’s aim to move staff back to market towns, but surely the result of this is to reduce even further the need to waste £40m on the shiny new headquarters.

We have yet to see any evidence that any move back to the market towns is actually happening.

Also there remains a lack of any clear, defined plan for the use of the existing County Hall site.

There is no sign of public support for any of the current proposals and no indication of the significant financial burdens which may be undertaken by the council as a result of these ‘grand plans’.

It is instructive that Coun Davey did go back on his promise of an open debate on the new County Hall project. Could it be that he fears further public scrutiny of his spending on this Labour vanity scheme?

It appears now that the promised audit will neither be full nor comprehensive.

It is specifically ruling out a detailed review of the facts and figures behind the business case and, although council officers will get a hearing, there is a refusal to interview any councillor during the review. Unbelievable, but true.

Coun Peter Jackson

Leader of Northumberland Conservatives