One of the first actions of the new Conservative administration upon seizing power last May was to cancel the planned move from County Hall in Morpeth to a new headquarters in Ashington.
Opting instead to improve the authority’s current base, an overall budget allocation of £17million was approved for the revamp of the Loansdean building, which sparked derision from the Labour opposition, whose plan to move to Ashington had been constantly criticised over cost.
In February, the council’s cabinet gave the go-ahead for the first stage, which is now well under way, to repair and upgrade the external fabric of the building at a cost of £2.7million.
At its meeting yesterday (Tuesday, November 13), councillors approved the next step – ‘carrying out the necessary internal remodelling and refurbishment works to provide a modern, fit-for-purpose office environment’.
This work, which will cost £3,976,780, is proposed to be carried out in phases, with the first starting in March next year and concluding in April 2020.
It involves two main elements – front-of-house and back-of-house.
Back-of-house relates to the office areas used by county council and healthcare trust staff and day-to-day ancillary facilities such as toilets and staff kitchens, with the principal works relating to the creation of open-plan office areas.
Front-of-house relates to the areas of the County Hall building that will form publicly-accessible facilities, for example, a remodelled reception, the creation of a meeting-room suite and refurbishment of the restaurant and associated kitchen.
Council leader Peter Jackson said: “We want to make the building fit-for-purpose, we want to make it cheaper to run and we want to use it more effectively by using some of the vast amounts of space which are available.
“We are pleased with the progress so far, it’s a major project and we just want to push on and get it finished as quickly as possible.”
Coun Sanderson added: “I think it’s a really worthwhile project and it will be a County Hall the county can be proud of.”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service