‘Local area councils wish to renew public confidence’

Coun Gordon Castle. Picture by Jane Coltman
Coun Gordon Castle. Picture by Jane Coltman

‘Local issues are what really matter to me’, the chairman of the newly-formed North Northumberland Council has said.

Alnwick’s Coun Gordon Castle will chair the new committee, set up by the county council’s new Conservative administration, with Coun Steven Bridgett the vice-chairman and Coun Trevor Thorne, the vice-chairman of planning.

Coun Castle said: “It extends from Alnwick up to Berwick and from Amble across to Rothbury. Local issues are what really matter to me and I intend to do my utmost to make this council what councils should always be – accessible, responsive and open.

“Parish councils and local people may be assured that some of the ground lost when district councils were abolished can be recovered.

“The county council became over-centralised and remote – the local area councils wish to renew public confidence in the council and recognise that local people and their elected members understand their communities better than distant powerhouses.

“We have initial plans, but we intend to progress step at a time. There are complexities, especially around budgeting, that require boldness and determination to overcome, but they will be overcome – the convenience of councillors comes second to the confidence of residents. Meetings will be held alternately in Alnwick and Berwick and local planning decisions, except major strategic developments, will be taken by locally based planning officers. Where referral to committee is necessary, the members will be local councillors who know their wards.

“Transport and local services will be provided by structures that equate to area council boundaries and parishes will know what is proposed in their communities before it has been decided – they will also have meaningful involvement when they wish to.

“This cannot all be achieved overnight but nor will it be allowed to drift. This is a new council with a new approach, and I am privileged to have such a position of responsibility in a part of the world that means so much to me.

“We started as we mean to continue. First thing on the morning after the May 24 meeting where this post was ratified by the council, a site visit took place at Lindisfarne Middle School, Alnwick which closes in July, to survey the facilities there before we match them, as promised, to the needs of local sports and adult education groups. This survey will be comprehensive, inclusive and completed in good time.

“Finally, to answer sceptics, these new councils are not extra layers of bureaucracy. They are the same members distributed locally with the same officers supporting them. They will take their budgets from the existing county-council budget and be subject to the same audit and scrutiny as anything else the council is responsible for.

“You may not agree with every decision the area council makes, but you should feel that you have had a much greater chance of being heard, consulted and involved than most residents have for the past 10 years. The whole council wants to be straightforward and open, so that you will at least be clearer about how and why it has acted.

“Please look for further reports on how we progress.”