Location is ‘wrong’ for new county HQ

Questions have been raised about the viability of moving Northumberland County Council’s headquarters to Ashington.

The authority is considering moving out of and selling its current County Hall base in Morpeth in a bid to reduce overall costs.

A report to the council’s policy board said it would cost around £44m to make County Hall efficient and suitable for continued occupation.

Around 1,400 staff in the current headquarters would then be split up between smaller corporate headquarters across the county.

And a new main headquarters site has been identified in Ashington, which the council would move into in four years’ time.

Development company Arch has been asked to draw up an investment plan for Ashington, focused on a major office-led, mixed-use redevelopment of the ‘North East Quarter’, with the assumption the council’s headquarters will form an anchor use, housing up to 1,000 staff.

But questions have been raised about the proposed move to Ashington.

Speaking at the policy board meeting last week, former council leader Coun Jeff Reid said: “I don’t think Ashington is the right place, we have to think about it logistically.

“If we are to move from Morpeth, we’d like to move south and west, not south and east.

“I don’t think it’s in the best interests of the population to move to Ashington. Somewhere next to Cramlington or the A1 where people can get to would be better. Because we all live within 15 miles of Ashington, it doesn’t mean 30-odd councillors do.”

He added: “We should be looking for land or buildings we already own. Why buy somewhere when the council is the largest landowner in the county after the Lords and Earls?”

In response, council leader Grant Davey said: “It’s a four-year plan to get moved. (If we move to Ashington) it will be a doddle to get to.

“There will be the new A1 Link Road to Ashington and it’s also serviced by the A189 to the Tyne Tunnel and the A1 south of Morpeth.

“We own the land in Ashington. It’s about getting best value for a new office block that will be attractive for our employees.

“It’s a change to make things better.”

A detailed report is due back in October.