Council propose County Hall sale

Controversial plans are being considered which would see Northumberland County Council’s headquarters being sold off.

Labour councillors have drawn up proposals which would see County Hall at Morpeth sold.

The authority is considering the move as part of plans to make £130m worth of budget savings over the next four years, with staff and services being moved to town centres sites.

Councillors and staff have been told about the proposals which has left some shocked about the potential impact the move could have on Morpeth.

But leaders have defended the decision, saying it would cost up to £10m to repair County Hall, which they say is inefficient and expensive to run – with an energy bill alone around £450,000 a year.

If the plans go ahead, it would see the 1,000 staff at County Hall – which opened in April 1981 – spread out among nine sites around the county, with Hexham, Blyth, Ashington and Berwick among the potential venues.

Coun Grant Davey, council leader, said: “The council is considering all future office requirements and part of that review will include the future of County Hall in Morpeth.

“The building is inefficient, expensive to run and requires major investment to deal with a number of outstanding maintenance issues such as the replacement of lifts, major refurbishment of the roof and new lighting.

“We estimate that this could cost well over £10m.

“Technology and the changing needs of the council mean that it is important that every opportunity is explored to reduce the overheads of the council and support the delivery of services.

“We’ll be making a full assessment of the options during the coming months before any key decisions are made.”

However, concerns have been raised by Morpeth Town Council about the potential move and the impact it would have on the town centre.

Town councillor David Parker said: “The potential impact on Morpeth is quite significant, there is no doubt about it.

“I understand that the county council has some financial difficulties, but in my view it should not have allowed the offices to get to the point where it feels it has to dispose of them because of the work needed to keep them in good repair.

“They are only 30-years-old and were purpose built so there is no way it should be disposing of them now.

“Over the years a lot of people who work at County Hall have come to live in Morpeth. People like to live near to their place of work and now the county council is proposing to disperse its staff right across the county.”

Labour councillor Scott Dickinson, business chair at the council, said: “As a result of coalition cuts which will see £65m slashed from the council budget by the 2015 general election meaning that the council has been forced to look at savings across the board.

“It is in the plans of the new administration to look at the County Hall site, it is not currently a cost effective way of delivering the council and we believe communities would like to have services decentralised and based in communities across Northumberland delivering local services to local people.

“It costs over £450,000 in utilities per annum for County Hall, it also requires £10m spent on it to bring it up to modern day workplace functionality which is money the council simply does not have.

“Hundreds of staff travel to Morpeth daily as do residents when we could simply have them located in a more local setting.

“We have already moved staff around since May and will continue to locate people as best for service delivery and value for money our administration will not apologise for taking the bold decisions that the previous administration failed to take and we will not target the workforce as the easy option to save money.”