Concerns over council HQ move raised in House of Lords

County Hall, Morpeth
County Hall, Morpeth

A question to the Government has been tabled by a member of the House of Lords over the proposed move of the county council’s headquarters from Morpeth to Ashington.

In October last year, the council’s policy board approved the move from its current County Hall base to the south-east of the county, despite concerns about its impact on Morpeth and the rest of the county, and the costs involved.

On Wednesday, Lord Vinson of Roddam asked the Government whether they have made, or intend to make, representations to Northumberland County Council about that authority’s plans to relocate its headquarters from Morpeth to Ashington and in particular the impact of the move on residents of the remoter urban and rural areas of that county, and if so on what terms?

Coun Anthony Murray, who represents the Wooler ward, said: “Like myself, and others, Lord Vinson is fearful that the cost it will incur and the increased isolation from the centre of power which will be experienced by the rural communities is detrimental to democracy in our county.

“The arguments made for relocation are sketchy and in some instances untrue and I ask everyone who believes in a fair deal for the whole of Northumberland to lobby wherever they can to reverse an issue which has been imposed on us by councillors who fail to understand the needs of the whole county.”

However, consultants ERS calculated that moving the council’s headquarters to Ashington would bring a positive economic impact worth £52.8million to the town. At the same time, releasing the current County Hall site for development would give Morpeth a positive economic impact worth £56million.

Northumberland County Council’s lead executive director, Steven Mason, said: “The difference in running costs in keeping County Hall in Morpeth compared to a number of other locations is marginal, but when the overall economic impact of the relocation is taken into account the case is very strong.

“The council will require a different approach to office working and office space over the next four years. We anticipate that officers will work more flexibly from different locations around the county, bringing our services and staff closer to communities. There will be opportunities to develop office space with ‘touch-down’ and shared space across the county. Fewer workstations will be needed at the corporate headquarters.

“Importantly, money saved on property can reduce the impact on services of the challenging council budget reductions that have to be made in the coming years.”

At the meeting in October, council leader Grant Davey said: “This is part of a strategy for the whole county, which supports town centres. The report makes the case for relocation to smaller headquarters at a smaller cost to the council. It is an opportunity to locate to a new town-centre building where the economic benefits can be shared out in the local community. For the sake of the whole county we need to spread the benefits.”

An answer from the Government to Lord Vinson’s question is expected within ten days.