Part of County Hall site set to house school, but what else?

County Hall in Morpeth.
Picture by Jane Coltman
County Hall in Morpeth. Picture by Jane Coltman

Proposals for a section of the current County Hall site have been unveiled, but how the rest of the land at Loansdean will be developed is unclear.

Earlier this month, Northumberland County Council’s Labour administration stated that a ‘bigger than expected windfall for residents’ is likely to result from redeveloping the site of the current headquarters in Morpeth.

Several ‘high-quality’ offers were received for the site prior to the deadline as the authority progresses its plans to relocate the council’s base to smaller new premises in Ashington.

A spokesman for the county council said it was ‘delighted’ with the response from developers and some of their offers were ‘substantially above’ forecasts in a business case endorsed by auditors Ernst & Young.

He added: “This ‘bonus’ income means that there will be even more money than anticipated to reinvest in restoring front-line services directly to residents through our market towns initiative.

“The profits generated by disposing of the expensive to maintain crumbling HQ and moving into a compact, efficient, purpose-built block will fund vastly-improved key facilities for residents all over Northumberland in their nearest market town – just where they want them.”

Last week, as reported by our sister paper, the Morpeth Herald, it was revealed that a state-of-the-art new Morpeth First School is planned for the site, with the £5.7million, two-storey complex expected to open its doors in September 2018.

This proposal has been welcomed by some Morpeth councillors, who, despite opposing the move of County Hall from the town, recognise the unsuitability of the school’s current site at Goosehill.

Nonetheless, the Northumberland Conservative group continues to criticise its Labour opponents over the HQ move, most recently accusing the administration of stifling debate on the issue.

A motion proposed by Tory leader Peter Jackson was seeking to have the matter discussed at this month’s full county council meeting, but he was disappointed that the motion was ‘blocked’ from appearing on the agenda.

However, a county council spokesman said there were ‘factual queries’ that needed a response, which didn’t arrive.

The motion called for the cabinet to be given all up-to-date information for the entire project because ‘additional information which may cause the council to review its decision has become available’.