Fears over plan to sell County Hall as £130m cuts sought

County Hall, Morpeth, headquarters for Northumberland County Council.

County Hall, Morpeth, headquarters for Northumberland County Council.

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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 is behind the announcement, has said it will help save jobs, assist the county’s economy and won’t hinder Morpeth’s fortunes.

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

The group is looking at moving the 1,000 or so staff based at the Morpeth site to bases around the county, including Berwick, and decentralising services.

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

But Coun Jackson said: “The main issue at the moment is lack of detail and thought in these plans. 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.

Meanwhile, Alnwick councillor Heather Cairns, 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.”

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

He added: “Morpeth will not suffer. It will gain. It is a boom town and developers like sites in the town. This will assist the whole of the economy of Northumberland. We will move out to the towns, which will include Morpeth if we own property in Morpeth that is correctly situated.”

All uses for County Hall site will be considered, including housing, which has an estimated potential for 2,000 homes.

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