Council rebuked for its Kwik Save actions
Northumberland County Council has been ordered to apologise for its mishandling of plans for the former Kwik Save site in Berwick.
There has been vocal opposition to the plans by Arch, the council’s development company, to turn the Walkergate site into office space for the council and a local accountancy firm.
The council has continually rebuffed criticism of the proposal but, after a nine-month investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO,) has been told to apologise to the complainant.
The LGO, while falling short of actually setting aside the planning consent, found the council was at fault for not assessing the application against policy but instead relying on the applicant’s assessment.
It was also deemed at fault for failing to adequately consider arguments about the perceived over-supply of office accommodation elsewhere in the town.
Cllr David Blackburn, of Berwick Town Council, has been a vociferous opponent and helped co-ordinate a petition of objection that received 1,000 signatures.
He said: “The council leader took the opportunity to chastise Berwick citizens in a newspaper article seeking to embarrass and isolate them for having the audacity to challenge Northumberland County Council and Arch.
“The council have been at fault for not assessing the planning application against (NCC) policy and instead relied on Arch’s own assessment. I understand that a planning officer even pasted a section of the Arch report in to his own report without challenging it! I remain deeply concerned at the county council’s method of operation.”
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Fellow town councillor Eric Goodyer, who submitted the complaint, said: “The former Berwick Borough Council identified this site for use for education and skills – £4million of council taxpayers’ money will be used for offices in a town awash with empty offices.
“This money should be used to build our economy not the profits of the council’s building company, Arch. This apology is not for me, it is for the kids of Berwick, the staff of Jus-Rol and everyone who has to travel 60 miles to get further education. The council can still do the decent thing and build us a college on that site.”
But Cllr Allan Hepple, county council member for housing and economic development said: “It’s a shame that so-called independent councillors on Berwick Town Council are seeking to politicise a very significant move forward for Berwick.
“They may not like the planning decision but the Ombudsman found the application was properly determined, members had enough information about empty office space to make their decision and that there had been no injustice to the complainant and we should be looking to the positive economic impact this application will make for the town.
“The application will safeguard over 100 jobs in the town and it will provide a location for more jobs as the plan to move council jobs out of County Hall in Morpeth into the county’s market towns moves forward.
“This should be a step forward against the backdrop of the recent job losses at Jus-Rol and we’re determined to support and develop Berwick to safeguard and create jobs to strengthen and grow the local economy. It’s time that the local Conservative-led ‘coalition of the negative’ tried to be constructive and stopped trying to use every decision in Berwick for party political advantage.”