The planning application for the new Northumberland County Council headquarters in Ashington, dubbed by one critic ‘a palace for councillors’, looks set to be approved next week.
The plans are recommended for approval at next Tuesday’s (April 5) meeting of the county council’s strategic planning committee, whose members have been on a site visit prior to making their decision.
More than £32million of capital funding for the project – whose costs over a 35-year period are slated to be £38.5million – was approved as part of Northumberland County Council’s budget and medium-term financial plan last month.
The application is for a five-storey, grade-A office building, associated infrastructure and the provision of up to 474 parking spaces at a site on Lintonville Road.
The application site is situated within the town centre of Ashington and forms part of the North East Quarter, which is a wider development scheme for the area.
The new headquarters is to be developed on a commercial basis by applicant Arch, ‘with an aspiration of a lease to Northumberland County Council’.
The new site would comprise office space for 910 work stations, a community drop-in centre, a double-height chamber and conference facilities plus meeting rooms, a café and central atrium space.
A committee report states: ‘The proposed design of the scheme comes from an ambition to develop a highly-efficient building which would perform well both as a piece of civic infrastructure and as a modern, flexible office environment that is attractive to future occupiers’.
The principle of the move to Ashington and the capital expenditure allocated to it in straitened times have been the source of ongoing criticism, particularly from the opposition Conservative councillors, who describe the scheme as a ‘£40million white elephant’. The council’s Labour administration has constantly underlined that it is an invest-to-save project which will save the authority money in the long run, while forming part of a wider strategy to decentralise services, returning them to market towns.
However, the planning application for the building seems to be less controversial, sparking just one objection from neighbours and none from statutory consultees on issues such as highways, public protection, drainage and flooding.