Northumberland County Council has today unveiled a range of proposals for key buildings in Alnwick, Ashington, Bedlington, Berwick, Blyth, Cramlington, Hexham, Morpeth and Ponteland.
As reported by the Gazette earlier today, Alnwick’s Northumberland Hall and Playhouse could be put to new and varied uses, but the proposals extend to all of the county’s nine main towns. The options for the other eight towns are detailed below.
The current use of our buildings in our main towns is an inefficient use of valuable assetsGrant Davey, Northumberland County Council leader
Council leader Grant Davey said: “It has been an important priority for the current administration to review the diverse property portfolio that is a legacy of the two-tier local government structure that came to an end in 2009. The current use of our buildings in our main towns is an inefficient use of valuable assets and does not meet the modern access or service quality expectations of Northumberland’s residents.”
The proposals will involve a number of staged moves. The council building in Walkergate would be remodelled to incorporate visitor information, customer information, local history studies and classrooms which can be used for adult learning and further education by Northumberland College. Palace Street East will be vacated and sold for restoration and re–use.
The authority is currently in discussions with key partners in Berwick, and during the next two years The Maltings and Cowes buildings could be redesigned and refurbished to create the council’s customer-facing access to Berwick’s residents. The authority will look to incorporate a new wedding venue and a new cultural venue to attract visitors and tell the story of the town, including the Berwick Burrell Collection, access to the border archives and the links to LS Lowry.
When the customer-facing services move to the new, remodelled Maltings, the Walkergate building would be retained as a learning centre for adults and for further education.
The council intends to move out of Wallace Green when other office space becomes available so that these buildings can be redeveloped for alternative uses.
Discussions are ongoing with the Queens Hall Trust to see if the Queens Hall building can be used accommodate visitor information and customer access in addition to the existing library. Such a move would allow the closure and sale of Hexham House, Prospect House, Hadrian House and the existing visitor-information facility at Wentworth Car Park.
Some staff working space may be provided at Queens Hall and further space may be developed as part of a comprehensive review of depot facilities.
The proposals for Morpeth are complex and will be subject to the planning process. The Chantry will host the library and customer information service access point. The current library site and adjoining buildings at The Willows and Beechfield could form a site to be used for a landmark riverside development.
The County Hall site would potentially open up opportunities for the creation of an education and leisure campus with the possibility of a shared performance and arts space. This would free up a number of major sites providing significant capital income and redevelopment opportunities and could involve relocating King Edward VI High School, Chantry and Newminster Middle Schools and one or more first schools to the County Hall site.
An options appraisal is planned and this is scheduled to be completed by summer 2016. It is anticipated that if possible these changes could be started in January 2017 and new schools be open for business in January 2019.
The council’s proposals will be phased over a number of years. In November 2015, the new leisure centre will be the home of the library service for the town. The current library building will be vacated and this together with a number of other assets will be sold.
If agreed, the new £19million council HQ, accommodating up to 1,000 staff, will be commissioned to be completed by spring 2018. This will dictate the timing of the various office changes, allowing surplus sites to be sold, including in the current library, South View District Office and part of the old leisure centre. Further consultation will take place on the potential to co-locate adult and children’s services teams.
The recently refurbished town hall provides good office space and will be retained with a view to providing some flexible arrangements as the new HQ is commissioned, if agreed.
The council’s proposals will see the current council offices on Front Street being closed by September 2015 and, following demolition, the site will be made available to the market for mixed use or residential use, subject to the planning process. This is a prime location in the town centre and sits within a conservation area.
Customer-service access will be moved to the existing library and an automated pay point will be available. In addition, it is planned to introduce a pharmacy service in the library providing a useful co-location of services. The council will continue to encourage a supermarket to open a new store in the town centre.
The proposals for Blyth will involve a number of staged moves. The council will vacate the Keel Row in June 2015 and will terminate other leases which do not fit into the plan for new agile working arrangements.
The council will rationalise its office accommodation needs into one location in the town centre and look to provide a single customer offer in the centre. This may be the acquisition of alternative premises or could be within a purpose-built facility. This will attract greater footfall to the town centre.
An operational centre for adults and children’s services will be created, with co-located services, providing the opportunity to remove expensive duplication.
The plans will see the refurbishment of Concordia Leisure Centre to accommodate the library and customer information centre. Some services such as the contact centre will move to the new HQ at Ashington if this is agreed.
The council will work closely with Hammerson and local stakeholders to support the master planning of the town centre and the future of council assets will be agreed as part of this strategy.
Especially important is developing solutions to the vehicle access and parking problems in the town centre. New housing will be built and development funds will be made available to create a sustainable town centre.
The proposals for Ponteland involve significant new developments and will be subject to the planning process. They involve the building new high, middle and first schools and a leisure centre on a new site allowing the existing sites to be released for future development.
The town library will be moved to the current leisure centre site in the short term and in the longer term it will co-locate on the new education and leisure campus. An options appraisal is planned and this will identify feasibility and timescales.