Council pleads for a rethink on Kwik Save site

Work has resumed on the redevelopment of the former Kwik Save site in Berwick but the row that has rumbled on for nearly a year shows no sign of ending.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 26 February, 2016, 07:06
Diggers continue the demolition work on the former Kwik Save site

There was heated debate in the council chamber at the Guildhall as opponents and supporters of the planned offices had their say.

Councillor David Blackburn, co-creator of a 1,000-name petition opposing the plans, said: “We should be following up our resolution to oppose the Kwik Save development at every stage until the first brick if the second phase is laid.

“Phase two has not even gone to planning yet and even with phase one we can affect the outcome of the tenancy.

“We, as a council, should have the backbone, determination and resilience to carry the fight to the final stages and we owe that to the public.

“As it stands there is an overwhelming number of people who don’t want offices there.”

He also called for chartered accountants Greaves, West and Ayre, the rumoured tenant, to publicly declare its intentions.

He was supported by Councillor Eric Goodyer who again called for answers on why plans for a learning and skills centre on the site did not happen.

The county council was recently ordered to apologise to Cllr Goodyer by the Local Government Ombudsman for the way it approved plans for the site, both for failing to take into account the over-supply of existing offices and a failure to declare its interests because it owns Arch, the company developing the scheme.

He said: “I am gifting that apology to the people of Berwick and specifically to our young people aged 16-18 who, because of this development, have been denied the further education college voted and approved by the former borough council and which was actively pursued by the county council until 2013 when it disappeared from the local development framework without any consultation.

“That site was purchased by One North East for £3.5million specifically for that purpose. It was fully funded by the Learning and Skills Council up until the point it died.

“Now, a couple of years later it pops up as offices when the town is already awash with empty offices and we have an enterprise zone with units at first fit stage.

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“We deserve a further education college. I’m sick and tired of our kids having to travel 106 miles a day because someone from Northumberland County Council wants offices on the site.”

However, Councillor Gavin Jones again defended his decision to vote in favour of the proposal last year and said it was now time to move on.

In his monthly statement to councillors, he explained: “Kwik Save has been derelict for nine years. During this period there have been two previous councillors for the Berwick North ward, both politically more experienced than myself. Neither were successful in providing a funded solution to this derelict site.

“We now have a funded solution. It might not be your first choice, it might not even be mine, but it’s time to get behind it and celebrate the fact that this represents a double whammy – the end to another derelict site and the retention of 100+ jobs in Berwick.

“It is also a site that we can use to attract good quality council jobs back into the town, as the administration’s plans to downsize County Hall pick up pace.

“Rather than be consumed by negativity on this proposal, I see this as an opportunity to get jobs and more economic activity for Berwick at a very difficult time for our town.”

Supporting Cllr Blackburn’s motion, town councillors voted 8-5 to ask Greaves, West and Ayre about its plans.

They unanimously called on Berwick’s county councillors to provide front-line vociferous opposition to the construction of offices in Walkergate.

They also called on Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan and the leader of Northumberland Conservatives, Peter Jackson, to oppose the plans.

The council also agreed to ask county council chief executive Steve Mason, Arch chief Peter McIntyre, council leader Grant Davey and Cllr Allan Hepple to withdraw from their contract with the Homes and Communities Agency ‘in order that the way can be paved for more economically productive and community based use of the land on the KwikSave site in accordance with the wishes of the people of Berwick’.