WATCH: Local government Minister Eric Pickles ’shocked’ by Berwick concerns

Tory Minister Eric Pickles criticised Northumberland County Council and Berwick Town Council on a visit to Berwick yesterday as the General Election campaign officially got under way.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government was in Berwick to support Conservative colleague Anne-Marie Trevelyan in her bid to take the marginal seat from the Liberal Democrats.

Eric Pickles

Eric Pickles

Mr Pickles said he was ‘pretty shocked’ to hear of allegations made by Tory colleague and town councillor Georgina Hill that Berwick Town Council has lacked transparency.

Councillor Hill, who is Ms Trevelyan’s General Election communications manager, has been campaigning for greater transparency and openness at Berwick Town Council for more than 18 months.

Mr Pickles said: “I’m pretty shocked because we have opened up local councils. It’s permissible to video and record what councils are saying.”

The Minister was speaking at The Cobbled Yard Hotel, opposite the old Kwik Save Site, which is controversially being developed by Arch into offices for the county council and a local accountancy practice.

Mr Pickles was critical of the county council for failing to consult with local residents over Arch’s plan.

He added: “I would only intervene if it was of regional significance. But what I can say is that it has surprised me how the county council has been so high-handed with the local population. I asked a simple question. Have you asked the local population what they want to do? The answer is no.”

Mrs Trevelyan, who recently raised her own concerns about Arch, saying that they seemed to be “combining the worst excesses of a private developer with the waste and inefficiency associated with the worst of the public sector”, said: “It was fantastic to have Eric Pickles come to Berwick and listen to these concerns from ordinary people who, like me, wish to see much improved transparency and better outcomes for local people.”