WATCH: Council leader on investment in north Northumberland

The leadership at Northumberland County Council has highlighted investment in the likes of Alnwick and Berwick, as it sets out the reasons behind its £380million spending programme.

This is the total proposed capital investment in the council’s 2017/18 budget and financial plan for the period up to 2020, which goes before the full meeting of the council next Wednesday (February 22).

The refurbished Northumberland Hall in Alnwick.

The refurbished Northumberland Hall in Alnwick.

On the video, council leader Grant Davey is speaking from the newly-refurbished Northumberland Hall, which has been restored thanks to a £328,000 cash injection from the county council, enabling a new use as a wedding venue.

Kathryn Guy, superintendent registrar with Northumberland County Council, said: “The council’s investment has breathed new life into the Hall and taken the first significant steps to returning it to the thriving community hub it once was.

“The team has already had many local people pop in to find out more and the beauty of the new hall is that it is a very versatile space, accommodating large-scale functions, through to more intimate gatherings, which means the whole community can benefit.”

Coun Davey said: “Our annual budget report makes it clear that we are thinking differently for these different times. On top of the funding reductions already passed down from central Government, we’re facing further cuts of £36million over the next three years – with £6million to come next year. Despite these very challenging circumstances, we are determined to do the very best for our county.

“Our innovative investments, such as the refurbishment of Northumberland Hall, will generate income, contributing to economic growth and regeneration as well as, in this case, bringing some of our most beautiful buildings back to life.

“We continue to do all we can to maintain our vital frontline services, generating jobs in the county, improving education and providing affordable housing, while at the same time developing new opportunities and creating new income streams. The returns from these innovative investments bring money back into the local economy and ensure every pound spent delivers the best value on behalf of our residents.”

Council Deputy Leader Dave Ledger added: “Our targeted investments will benefit residents and bring returns which we can reinvest into making a great county even better. The refurbished Northumberland Hall is one such example. This beautiful venue will be a great boost for Alnwick, creating more jobs and attracting more people to the town.”

However, at last week’s meeting of the council’s cabinet, Conservative group leader, Coun Peter Jackson, said: “The big thing is the massive expansion in the capital programme. There are things in there that have cross-party support (such as reopening the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line and creating new car parks).

“But it seems to be that they’re part of a long list of election promises. There’s no details on any of these projects. It’s been expressed to me by members of the public that they doubt any will actually be delivered.

“There’s going to be a huge build-up of debt and the prediction is it will rise to £1.4billion.”

Lib Dem leader, Coun Jeff Reid, was also wary of the ‘direction of the capital programme’, although he conceded that ‘all of us know we are between a rock and a hard place’ and ‘whatever we do is going to be difficult’. “Saving £6million this year and pushing the rest (£20million next year) after the election is unfortunate,” he added.

Elsewhere in the area, the county council is also investing in housing in north Northumberland and the wider county, putting £35million into a five-year improvement plan for council housing, upgrading fixtures and fittings across the region.

In addition, a £1.3million award from the Community Housing Fund will help tackle the shortages in affordable homes for local people, focusing on areas where second-home ownership is traditionally high. The funding pot will aid the council’s work with Community Action Northumberland, providing more homes that will enable local people to remain in the area.

Public parks, including those in Amble and Berwick, will benefit from a £2.5million funding pot for improvements that will ensure residents and visitors alike can continue to enjoy the beautiful green spaces the county is famous for, while Alnwick will benefit from a £12million county-wide investment into new high schools.