Public are being shut out of meetings

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PUBLIC access to planning committee meetings in south east Northumberland is being restricted because of the lack of a night caretaker at Blyth Civic Centre, councillors were told last week.

Dave Ledger, chairman of the council’s south east planning committee, told members he “had a bit of a bee in his bonnet” over the way the committee was treated at the civic centre.

“We’re having tremendous problems,” he said.

“At the last couple of meetings, we have had to man the door while we’re trying to have a public meeting.

“If anyone turns up after six o’clock, they cannot get in.

“The venue is being taken away from us, and it is a bit of a concern.

“We had the same problems in Ashington, and we moved venue from the north side of the area to Choppington Social Welfare Centre to overcome the problems we were enduring.

“Now we are enduring exactly the same problems in this building.

“This is a county council building, it is used by Northumberland Homes, and yet we have the same problems.

“They want us out by nine o’clock, and I’ve said quite clearly if a public meeting goes on until ten o’clock, it will go on until ten o’clock, but while we are upstairs there is nobody downstairs if anything goes wrong.

Coun Ledger, of Choppington, said that although he had not raised the issue with members before, he was “quite angry” at the way the committee was being treated.

“We own the building, and we should state what our requirements are,” he said.

“With the town hall in Ashington, it was slightly different because it was the lift which was causing the problems over insurance, and because of that, and to help disabled people, like myself, who have difficulty climbing stairs, attend meetings, something had to be done.

“I understand that, but I don’t understand the problem here, and I believe a resolution is needed to resolve the issue prior to our meeting in two months’ time.

“We are in the driving seat whatever the lease is.

“This property belongs to the county council and is leased to Northumberland Homes, and they should accommodate us.

“If they send the caretaker home, then they should put somebody on duty to man the door, for example, during the period of time we are here.”

Members agreed to ask the council’s democratic services department to contact Northumberland Homes to try to resolve the issue.