Investment in ‘at least four’ town locations

Could Lion House in Alnwick become a base for county-council staff?
Could Lion House in Alnwick become a base for county-council staff?

Investment in the buildings which will house council services is another key plank in the Labour administration’s markets towns initiative.

And news of the locations to be used in Alnwick has sparked speculation that offices at Lion House could be brought back into use for Northumberland County Council staff.

Last week, we reported that the decentralisation of council services as part of the relocation of County Hall could see 300 to 400 jobs located in Alnwick.
This week, it was confirmed by a spokesman that services will be delivered from at least four main locations in the town.
This includes the Playhouse,
which will become a community hub after a deal was struck between the main players; the Northumberland Hall, where refurbishment work is due to be completed at the end of June; and the Lionheart Enterprise Park, where there are plans for a new ‘super-depot’ incorporating the fire station.

The spokesman added that the council is in negotiations for at least one other ‘unused’ location, but would not confirm which building it is.

However, given the sale of empty former council assets such as the old council chamber and Allerburn House, Lion House, which has housed various Government staff, including from Defra, seems a likely option.

Labour and council leader, Grant Davey, said: “Our market towns initiative will see significant investment in locating services in town centres across the county and we’re seeking to use that investment to create the conditions to lever in more investment.

“In Alnwick, we see ways to work in partnership with the community to develop the best value-for-money services that will support and sustain our market towns as an absolute must.

“We’ll be starting our local conversations with communities like Alnwick very soon and we want this to be very much a two-way dialogue. We want to work with anyone who is serious about developing economic opportunities for our market towns. We promised to devolve services and jobs out of County Hall in the 2013 elections and we intend to keep that promise.”

Tory leader slams Labour following Alnwick jobs claim

The Labour administration’s pledge of up to 400 jobs in Alnwick as part of its drive to decentralise has been described as ‘two-faced’.

Conservative leader, Coun Peter Jackson, claimed it was his group which first proposed that more council staff should be situated across Northumberland, but said: “The 400 jobs Labour are talking about were actually promised to Hexham over two years ago and yet they never materialised.

“In fact, over the three years of this Labour administration in Northumberland, hundreds of council jobs have been lost from our market towns, the most recent example in the last few months being the centralisation of the council’s planning officers back into County Hall. It seems to be a little two-faced to promise one thing and to do the opposite.”

He added that decentralisation ‘completely wipes away any need’ for a new HQ in Ashington.

A Labour spokesman responded: “Coun Jackson has tried at every turn to try to stop Labour delivering on its manifesto pledge to return services and jobs to the market towns through the market towns initiative, but it’s a major step forward that he’s accepted that decentralising jobs and services will be a positive economic benefit for our market towns. If he’s serious about his words of support though, he’ll reflect on the contradictory nature of his current position on the move out of County Hall which is the precursor to any decentralisation he now says he’s in favour of.”