First business is establishment of area councils

Coun Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland Conservatives, outside County Hall in Morpeth.
Coun Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland Conservatives, outside County Hall in Morpeth.

The Tories are wasting no time in putting plans into action as the introduction of five local area councils goes before the new authority’s first meeting.

Following the elections on May 4, Northumberland County Council meets for the first time on Wednesday and the Conservatives, now the largest group, are planning a major shake-up, to include a reduction in the number of committees by eight.

The map showing how the county will be split into five local area councils.

The map showing how the county will be split into five local area councils.

The duties of the existing seven scrutiny committees will be reallocated to four – family and children’s services; health and wellbeing; corporate services and economic growth; and communities and place – but the biggest change is the establishment of the local councils, which will make decisions on planning applications, roads spending and transport priorities.

The five areas are North Northumberland (green), Castle Morpeth (red), Tynedale (blue), Ashington and Blyth (yellow), and Cramlington and Bedlington (purple).

The North Northumberland area council will be made up of the following county-council wards: Alnwick (two councillors); Amble; Amble West with Warkworth; Bamburgh; Berwick East; Berwick North; Berwick West with Ord; Longhoughton; Norham and Islandshires; Rothbury; Shilbottle; Wooler. Druridge Bay and Longhorsley wards will be in Castle Morpeth.

A report to next week’s meeting states that ‘it is anticipated that the new proposals will save around £62,000 in allowances compared with the present system’.

Conservative group leader, Coun Peter Jackson, said: “Our Conservative Group has been honoured to receive enthusiastic support from all corners of our county.

“Now that we are by far the largest group on the county council, it is our responsibility to deliver on our manifesto promises. Some we can move on quickly, but others will take a while to work through.

“People told us that they wanted a council which works with them rather than impose unpopular plans in the autocratic way of the last four years under Labour.

“Not only will we work closer with communities, but we will save taxpayers a considerable amount – £250,000 over the next four years which the council can put back into essential daily services.

“This is the start of a county that works for all.”

Speaking to the Gazette last week, “For the last four years, we have had a council that has been autocratic and did not engage in any meaningful way with local communities.

“What we want to do is change that round so we won’t impose large projects or developments on communities, we will actually work with them to create their own futures. In that way, we think we will find a better future for the whole county.

“The local area councils are part of that vision, so in north Northumberland we would fully expect the local area council to work very closely indeed with the major towns of Alnwick and Berwick on local development plans for those communities.”

Coun Jackson said this was not a return to the district councils, but about ‘bridging the gap between an autocratic, centralised county council and communities’. “We value the work that town and parish councils are doing and wish to work closely with them, it’s just to try and bridge that gap with a distant council that doesn’t engage, but should do.”

But the proposals have already sparked criticism from the North East Party, which believes these boundaries were drawn up ‘in order to isolate certain areas of south-east Northumberland’, adding that it would have made much more sense to create a Blyth Valley committee and a Wansbeck committee.

David Cockburn, acting chairman of the North East Party – Northumberland, Tyne and Wear Branch, said: “Geographically these plans for south-east Northumberland are nonsensical.

“Elsewhere in Northumberland, these planning committees are largely based on the old district-council boundaries, however, south-east Northumberland has been split into Conservative areas and non-Conservative areas rather than Blyth Valley district and Wansbeck district.

“Peter Jackson has previously said that too much money is spent in Blyth and Ashington and he seems now to be building a model to cut funding to those areas – I challenge him over the next four years to prove this is not the case.”