Sale plans spark debate

County Hall, Morpeth, headquarters for Northumberland County Council.
County Hall, Morpeth, headquarters for Northumberland County Council.

A plan to sell off the administrative headquarters of cash-strapped Northumberland County Council has sparked debate and concern.

The area’s Conservative group leader Peter Jackson has criticised the proposal’s lack of detail while Morpeth councillors fear that selling off County Hall would have a major impact on the town.

But Grant Davey, head of the ruling Labour administration which has made the announcement, has said it will help save jobs, assist the county’s economy and won’t hinder Morpeth.

The plan to sell off County Hall comes as the administration battles to cope with a £130million cut to its budget over the next four years.

The group is looking at moving the approximate 1,000 staff based at the site to different bases around the county and decentralising services.

Labour bosses say that yearly energy bills for the building are £450,000 while £10million would need to be spent to bring it up to modern-day standards.

But Coun Jackson has told the Gazette that he has his doubts about the proposal .

“The main issue at the moment is lack of detail and thought in these plans,” he said.

“My fear is the vast majority of jobs will migrate across to Blyth and Ashington and will not be decentralised in the rural market towns like Alnwick and Berwick.”

He fears selling County Hall will have a devastating affect on Morpeth.Similar concerns have been raised by members of Morpeth Town Council.

Meanwhile, Alnwick county councillor Heather Cairns, who is also deputy leader of Northumberland Lib Dems, said: “Are we going back to district councils? A few years ago, we centralised everything, now there is talk of decentralising everything. I find it fascinating.”

But Coun Davey said decentralisation will assist local economies and residents, reduce commuting times and help the council become modern.

“We have been in consultation with the trade unions for several months about this.

“Morpeth will not suffer. It is a boom town and developers like sites in the town.”