Plans are being considered which could attract more than £27m into nine towns in the county.
A Northumberland County Council review of 89 buildings and assets in nine towns has identified opportunities to generate more than £27m in capital income, boost regeneration and help the authority save £3.4m in running costs.
At the same time improved ‘one stop’ access for local people will be put in place making it easier to access council services across the whole of the county.
Coun Grant Davey, leader of council, said: ‘‘The towns of Ashington, Bedlington, Blyth and Cramlington make up nearly half of Northumberland’s population and are central to the economic growth plans of the county.
“Ashington is the third largest town in the county and there are exciting times ahead. The potential £60m reopening of the Ashington Blyth and Tyne Passenger Rail line, the ambitions of Northumberland College in supporting employability and skills and the major capital investment planned for the North East Quarter of the town are all geared to driving economic growth in the town.
‘’Bedlington has recently heard the news that Tesco is closing its town centre store. It is with this in mind that the proposals to review the council’s assets in the town have been developed.
The towns of Ashington, Bedlington, Blyth and Cramlington make up nearly half of Northumberland’s population and are central to the economic growth plans of the countyCoun Grant Davey, leader of council
“This, together with the recent announcement that Arch, The Northumberland Development Company, has been asked to draft a town centre masterplan and investment strategy is aimed at creating vitality and sustainability in the town centre.
“Blyth is the largest town in Northumberland and over the years public services have been located in a range of buildings. The town will benefit from improved communications associated with the reopening of passenger rail services.
“The success of Blyth as a town is critical as the council, with its development partner Arch, looks to support economic growth in the coming years.
“Cramlington is the manufacturing heart of the county and its proximity to Tyneside, together with excellent housing and a vibrant town centre, make it a popular location to live.
“The housing expansion planned for the south west sector in the coming years and the emerging proposals to expand and modernise the town centre retail and leisure offer will further grow the town.
“Where and how the council delivers services in the future will form an important building block for development in all four towns in south east Northumberland.
“It has been an important priority for the current administration to review the diverse property portfolio that is a legacy of the two tier local government structure that came to an end in 2009.
“The current use of our buildings in our main towns is an inefficient use of valuable assets and does not meet the modern access or service quality expectations of Northumberland’s residents.
“We believe that we can reduce costs, support town centre regeneration and redesign and radically improve service access for residents at the same time.
“The potential investment in a new county council headquarters in the Ashington North East Quarter is the major catalyst to radically review the council’s accommodation footprint in the town. Sitting next to the new leisure and library venue the county HQ would bring a range of economic benefits to the town.
‘’Although the Tesco decision for Bedlington was extremely disappointing, the council is looking to the future and opportunities that may exist to regenerate the town centre. If it can release the old council offices for redevelopment, attract other supermarket providers and provide a new customer service access point in the town then this can stimulate the wider Arch investment strategy supported by a new master plan for the town.
‘’In Blyth many of the buildings used by the council are no longer fit for purpose and are not able to be easily adapted to support modern working practices. Inefficient ways of working have developed over time and in some places there is duplication
“Linking the accommodation plans to economic growth drivers including Blyth Enterprise Zone, Ashington BIyth and Tyne Passenger Railway and the current Quayside projects will give an added boost to the regeneration aspirations.
‘’In Cramlington, services and office accommodation have evolved over time and many are now past their sell by date. By co-locating services and working with Hammerson, the town centre owners, the council can use its surplus assets to support the future redesign of the town centre.’’
The council’s proposals will be phased over a number of years. In November 2015 the new leisure centre will be the home of the library service for the town. The current library building will be vacated and this together with a number of other assets will be sold.
If agreed, the new £19m council HQ, accommodating up to 1,000 staff, will be commissioned to be completed by Spring 2018. This will dictate the timing of the various office changes, allowing surplus sites to be sold, including in the current library, South View District Office and part of the old leisure centre. Further consultation will take place on the potential to co-locate adult and children’s services teams.
The recently refurbished town hall provides good office space and will be retained with a view to providing some flexible arrangements as the new HQ is commissioned, if agreed.
The council’s proposals will see the current council offices on Front Street being closed by September 2015 and, following demolition, the site will be made available to the market for mixed use or residential use, subject to the planning process. This is a prime location in the town centre and sits within a conservation area.
Customer service access will be moved to the existing library and an automated pay point will be available. In addition it is planned to introduce a pharmacy service in the library providing a useful co-location of services.
The council will continue to encourage a supermarket to open a new store in the town centre.
The proposals for Blyth will involve a number of staged moves. The council will vacate the Keel Row in June 2015 and will terminate other leases which do not fit into the plan for new agile working arrangements.
The council will rationalise its office accommodation needs into one location in the town centre and look to provide a single customer offer in the centre. This may be the acquisition of alternative premises or could be within a purpose built facility. This will attract greater footfall to the town centre.
An operational centre for adults and children’s services will be created, with co-located services, providing the opportunity to remove expensive duplication.
The plans will see the refurbishment of Concordia Leisure Centre to accommodate the library and customer information centre. Some services such as the contact centre will move to the new HQ at Ashington if this is agreed.
The council will work closely with Hammerson and local stakeholders to support the master planning of the town centre and the future of council assets will be agreed as part of this strategy.
Especially important is developing solutions to the vehicle access and parking problems in the town centre. New housing will be built and development funds will be made available to create a sustainable town centre.
The nine main towns within the review are Alnwick, Ashington, Bedlington, Berwick, Blyth, Cramlington, Hexham, Morpeth and Ponteland.