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Group call to council leader over aborted HQ move

A section of the Portland Park site in Ashington.
A section of the Portland Park site in Ashington.

A group of Ashington residents is demanding answers over costs for the cancellation of the County Hall relocation from Morpeth to Ashington.

Northumberland County Council’s draft accounts for the 2017-18 financial year included information that the ‘overall impact’ of the aborted move to a new office at Portland Park was £5.53 million.

The local authority has said the figure includes £2.1million, which covers all the design works before tender, and a further £2.1million on ongoing plot development works as well as the £1.4million cost of cancelling the contract.

But the residents who started a campaign over what is being dubbed the Ashington Hole are calling for better transparency as the cancelling the HQ contract cost was the only one mentioned in response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request.

A spokesman for the group said: “In the FoI request, we asked for a ‘breakdown of costs for the cancellation of County Hall moving to the Ashington site, including settlement costs with contractors’.

“The answer we received from the county council stated that ‘a settlement figure of £1.4million was paid to the main contractor, Galliford Try, to vary the contract and exclude the HQ element from the project whilst continuing with the infrastructure works’.

“This is not a breakdown, this is only one part of the question. Why is the other £4.13million not mentioned?”

Ashington town councillor and county councillor Mark Purvis said: “The people of Ashington deserve answers and complete transparency on this issue.

“Council leader Peter Jackson and the Tory administration need to clarify the exact cost of the postponement of the move and keep local residents up to date with what is happening next with ‘the hole’.”

Coun Jackson said: “The county council has been working for many months with local residents to develop an exciting scheme that will not only provide hundreds of jobs, but also bring a new focus to Ashington town centre.

“It is a shame that some can only talk down the prospects for the town.

“There will be further detailed plans published in the next few months and we ask all interested people to help us design a bright future for the town.

“It is worth pointing out that while the annual report includes costs in addition to the cancellation of the contract, some of these would have been incurred to develop the site regardless.

“The work undertaken by Arch and their consultants during the design and procurement stage for the building was part of the previous administration’s capital budget and this spending is not something the current council did or would have sanctioned.”