Ian Lavery has urged the Conservative-led administration at County Hall to announce its intentions for some key sites to ‘put mine and my constituents’ minds at rest’.
The areas highlighted in the Wansbeck MP’s letter to Northumberland County Council leader Peter Jackson – sent last night – include the town centre development in Newbiggin and future leisure, library, parking and school provision in Morpeth.
He also raises concerns about Arch, the local authority’s development company, and calls on the Tories to make a pledge not to reduce council jobs or services or pass any of them to the private sector.
But Coun Jackson has hit back today, accusing Mr Lavery of ‘unnecessarily scaremongering residents and council staff’.
He pointed to the example of the Pipers Place development in Bedlington, as he has said the planning permission process for this scheme should not be slowed down – an outline application for the mixed-use project was approved by the council earlier this month.
The Conservatives became the largest party on the council following the May 4 election. The previous administration was Labour-led, with support from independent councillors.
Earlier this week, Arch said it is ‘continuing to deliver business as usual across the county’, amid uncertainty over its future following a Tory pledge to scrap it.
On this matter, Coun Jackson said on Monday: “We are currently establishing the parameters of the Arch strategic review.
“It may take several weeks or months to conclude the review. In the meantime, the council leadership team will work closely with Arch’s board and management team to ensure businesses, home-buyers and tenants are not affected.”
Mr Lavery was re-elected in last week’s General Election and earlier this week, he was named Labour Party chairman.
His letter to Coun Jackson is as follows: ‘Firstly, please let me offer my belated congratulations on your group forming a minority administration in Northumberland.
‘My constituents are extremely concerned about the future direction of the council given the commitments that you and your group made during the run-up to the election.
‘Given the outgoing administration and outgoing chief executive had passed a balanced budget for investment and to protect frontline services, thanks in no small part to the contribution of the Arch dividend, whilst other groups including your own had failed to offer an alternative, residents are rightly concerned at funding for the promises that you made and for investment in their communities.
‘I would be grateful if you could put mine and my constituents’ minds at rest with regards to the following:
• Continuing investment in the communities that make up Wansbeck including, but not limited to, the development of the Portland Park site in Ashington, the development of Pipers Place in Bedlington, the town centre development in Newbiggin and the development of affordable properties on the former Moor School site and the development of facilities in Morpeth, including new leisure, library, parking and school provision.
• Continuing regional infrastructure development that will improve the lives of thousands in the south east of Northumberland including, but not limited to, the reinstatement of passenger trains on the Ashington, Bedlington and Blyth lines and the development of green energy jobs and regeneration of Cambois, North Blyth and Sleekburn.
• The specific pledge to scrap Arch, which is one of the biggest employers in the constituency, also raises significant concerns. Can you guarantee that Arch’s employees are not under threat of redundancy, that Arch homes’ tenants will either continue to be provided for or consulted with as to any changes and that Arch’s commercial tenants will either continue to be provided for or consulted with as to any changes?
• Finally, that council jobs and services will not be reduced or passed to the private sector to fund spending commitments made in your manifesto.
‘I look forward to your speedy response.’
Coun Jackson said in response: “If Mr Lavery had spent more time in his constituency, he would have seen the clear statements we have made in the local papers, so he is simply creating political mischief.
“As was mentioned earlier this week, all of Arch’s current on-site developments will proceed as planned apart from the new county council headquarters being built in Ashington.
“People across the county felt this was a big waste of money and so we’re looking at other options for that part of the Portland Park site.
“All future Arch projects will be subject to rigorous value-for-money assessment because we found that residents across Northumberland were questioning the value of what were seen as vanity projects being pursued by the previous Labour-led administration.
“I clearly stated at the first meeting of the new council that there was no intention of privatisation at all because we value the work our council staff do for our communities.
“Raising that issue is worrying these good people unnecessarily.”