Recently, residents received a copy of Northumberland News, which is promoted by Northumberland Conservatives.
There are headlines informing us that millions have been saved as a ‘vanity project is cancelled’.
This is referring to the cancellation of Northumberland County Council moving its headquarters from Morpeth to Ashington. However, I do not agree with the headline.
County Hall in Morpeth was built in the 1960s to accommodate 3,000 employees. Today it’s just over 1,000 and is expected to decrease as new ways of working are introduced. The building has high maintenance costs and does not meet environmental, energy efficiency or carbon reduction standards.
In 2014 the then Labour administration commissioned three independent companies to investigate the future of County Hall with a view of bringing it into the 21st century.
The brief was to look at what options were available. They decided on three – full relocation to another area, remain at County Hall, or the creation of a new, reduced HQ on the present site.
When the research was completed, Ashington was chosen as the preferred site. It would meet the standards required, have the greatest impact on the local economy and be ‘value for money’.
Remaining on the present site would be the most expensive as it would require the building to be taken back to the brickwork and would, in effect, become a new build.
After passing through cabinet and full council meetings the decision was taken to start building the new HQ in Ashington.
Building work was under way when the Tories came to power and, backed by the LibDems and Independents, cancelled the project.
It seems that this decision was taken without financial research into the costs, such as those that would be awarded to the contractor for cancellation and any other incidental claims. It is estimated they will be in the millions.
The Tories claim that moving the HQ from Morpeth was unpopular with the electorate. If it was so unpopular why did they not command a large majority in County Hall?
Likewise, why did they not ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to call in this decision? This would have stopped building work before it started and any financial burden now placed on the council.
They cannot give any concrete evidence as to why they should remain at the present location.
This decision may prove to be very expensive and a waste of public money. Is it not time for the administration to inform the electorate of the true cost of this political decision?