New leadership, but thorny issue of Arch remains

Manor Walks Shopping & Leisure, in Cramlington.
Manor Walks Shopping & Leisure, in Cramlington.

Controversial development company Arch continues to be a key talking point, sparking questions over a Tory U-turn and loss of jobs and revenue.

At last week’s first meeting of Northumberland County Council under Conservative control, new Independent councillor Georgina Hill, a long-time critic of Arch, asked for an update, ‘in terms of process and timescales, for the abolition of Arch?’

In line with what the new council leader, Coun Peter Jackson, had said previously, he said that as it was only the first day of the administration, it was too early to give a timescale but that the details were being analysed.

Coun Hill referred to the fact that the Conservative manifesto pledged to abolish Arch, not reform it, which had ‘proved popular on doorsteps with one person saying Arch made Fifa look as wholesome as the Brownies’. She asked if the Tories would perform a U-turn and ‘just set up Arch again under another name?’

Coun Jackson replied: “It’s a manifesto promise and we will keep it. We can’t do everything on day one. We are going to change Arch fundamentally.”

Labour’s Coun Bernard Pidcock subsequently asked what the new council would do to replace the £25million dividend received from Arch once it had been scrapped.

Coun Jackson dismissed this figure as a ‘figment of your imagination’ while the council was ‘risking £500million of taxpayers’ money’.

Coun Pidcock followed up by asking whether, given that Arch – a means of attracting investment – seemed like something the Conservatives would back, the party was shifting to the left in Northumberland.

Coun Jackson said that it was ‘about business sense’, describing the £78million purchase of Manor Walks shopping centre in Cramlington as ‘crackers’.