Council HQ move debate rumbles on

County Hall, Morpeth.
County Hall, Morpeth.

Labour councillors in the south-east of the county are calling on Tory politicians to follow the lead of one of their high-profile supporters and back the move of the council’s HQ to Ashington.

Earlier this month, we reported that a decision on the relocation of County Hall from Morpeth to Ashington has been put on hold with a new report from officers now due later in the year.

Sir John Hall

Sir John Hall

Conservative Group leader Peter Jackson described the situation as a ‘dog’s breakfast’ and ‘a disaster from start to finish’.

It followed the news that the total cost of the move had risen from an original build cost of £19million to £27million, with a further £5million for the internal fit-out and £1million for parking provision.

However, Labour and council leader Grant Davey said: “We’re committed to delivering a value-for-money project, which will act as an economic spur for Ashington and Morpeth, but the spin-off will mean hundreds of council jobs moving back to market towns across Northumberland.”

As well as being criticised by Conservative councillors in Northumberland, MPs Guy Opperman (Hexham) and Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick) are also opposed to the move.

However, well-known Tory supporter and businessman, Sir John Hall, is backing the scheme in his role as chairman of the Ashington Town Team, saying the move would help to kickstart the town’s economic revival and break the cycle of decline.

It has led to Labour councillors calling on the opposition councillors to ‘stop playing politics with Ashington’s future’.

Ward member for the town’s Haydon ward, Brian Gallacher, said: “It’s time for Hexham’s MP and the Tory group leader Peter Jackson to stop attacking Ashington and to follow the lead of their supporter and donor Sir John Hall and get behind a bold and visionary plan that will reverse the economic decline of the town.

“Sir John Hall knows when to leave politics at the door for the good of communities and it’s a pity his passion for economic change isn’t matched by Northumberland Tories.

“Residents of the town will rightly ask just what Guy Opperman and Peter Jackson have against Ashington and the south-east.”