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County Hall, the "Superschool" & County Council Assets in Morpeth

Having concluded that the final decision was taken some months ago about the move of County Hall to Ashington, the Labour Leadership of NCC has now referred the proposal for examination by external auditors. In the meantime, the planning application for the new building in Ashington has been submitted.

Morpeth Town Council is unanimously against the move, but wrote a report exploring potential uses for the site, in order to ensure a "win win" situation that benefits both NCC and Morpeth. We concluded that any suggestion of moving large schools to the site was "perverse" - why do that when the focus of development for the town is to the north? Despite this, Labour went ahead with an expensive feasibility study for a "superschool" on the site but, at the NCC consultation day in the Town Hall in November, the people of Morpeth made it clear that the idea was not acceptable. We now believe they are considering other options for the site.

The Town Council has been working with NCC staff to prepare two public consultation days in relation to the County Council's various assets in Morpeth town centre. These will take place in the Town Hall, the first being on Saturday 20th February about services, and the second in April about sites. Individuals and organisations will be welcome to come along to put their point of view and learn about the possibilities and limitations. Hopefully, together we will be able to come up with an informed and effective plan for how and where.

1st February 2016

Sale of County Hall moves a step closer

The failure of the Northumberland County Council Policy Board to support Scrutiny's recommendations for a delay in the process of moving the Council's headquarters from Morpeth to Ashington was greeted with disappointment & sadness by Liberal Democrat Group Secretary & local councillor Andrew Tebbutt. The decision will also set in train some very intense political activity. All Opposition councillors believe that the arguments for moving are extremely flawed, and in particular the presumed financial benefits just don't exist. Opposition councillors will now have to consider whether to "Call In" the decision under the Council's constitution; consider a motion of "No Confidence" in the Administration at Full Council or even referring the matter to the Department of Communities and Local Government for possible intervention, given the seriousness of the proposals.

Councillor Andrew Tebbutt, Liberal Democrat, Group Secretary and the councillor who represents Morpeth Kirkhill where County Hall is located, has been leading the campaign to get the Policy Board to reconsider its decision. Supported by Morpeth Town Councillor David Parker and a local representative & business analyst, David Holden, they did their best to persuade the Policy Board to reconsider its position, but without success.

Councillor Tebbutt says; "They just don't want to listen even though the facts are staring them in the face. Grant Davey (Leader of the Council) presented a range of rather spurious reasons why this would be good for everyone, conveniently ignoring some basics. This could easily be a disaster for Morpeth, create considerable inconvenience for many people who live in the North or West of the County who will find it more difficult to get to the new headquarters, and there are no guarantees of any benefits for the people of Ashington. We will go on fighting for what we believe is right. They are doing this purely for political satisfaction, pandering to their heartland of supporters. I wonder if those supporters will be pleased about all the additional costs this will bring when they don't see any benefits. Ashington needs retail regeneration; you can't achieve that from public sector expenditure alone. Perhaps the greatest sadness, and biggest danger, is that Cllr Davey believes his own hype!"

7th October 2014

Sale of County Hall would be a catastrophe for Morpeth

Letter published in the Morpeth Herald from Lib Dem town councillors:

To their utter astonishment, residents of Morpeth will have discovered through the newspapers, radio and television that the Labour Administration in Northumberland County Council are planning to sell of County Hall and build 2000 homes on the site. There is apparently to be no discussion on the matter as the decision has been taken, and Labour claim that they have a mandate to do so because it was in their Manifesto for the County election is May last year. If the Morpeth branch of the Labour party knew about this they most certainly did not tell the people of Morpeth. This decision would be a catastrophe for the town.

Until a New Year letter was sent to all members of County Council staff by the Leader of the Council, it would appear that staff knew nothing about it and the plans have not been thought through. The Council's latest consultation on the Core Strategy, which will govern all planning decision for the next 20 years, has only just been completed and there was no mention of this proposal in any of the documentation. There has been no consideration of the infrastructure needed such as roads including the need for a repair of the Telford Bridge and possibly construction of a second bridge, sewerage or schools. There has been no risk assessment undertaken in regard to how the loss of the town's main employer would affect the balance, cohesion and future sustainability of the town. They have overlooked the fact that developers try to "sell" their proposals for Morpeth to planners by focusing attention on what a wonderful source of employment County Hall is.

Work on the Core Strategy has been disgracefully slow and to delay the process further, due to the need to include this proposal and consider its implications, would be a betrayal not only of Morpeth but the whole of the County. Developers will feel free to put in multiple applications for development wherever they wish. We will be in a planning vacuum. It is not surprising that the Labour Administration is not interested in Morpeth, since the Labour party has no County Councillors and only one out of fifteen Town Councillors representing the town.

Morpeth Town Council has been working on a comprehensive Neighbourhood Plan and our recent consultation on the Issues and Options showed that the vast majority of residents believe that the town's development should focus on the north of the town. We want Morpeth to be a town where people can live and work, so that it does not become increasingly a dormitory settlement for Tyneside, with no cohesion, community spirit or economic viability. The building of 2000 new homes to the south of the town is more than what has already been stated as the housing need for Morpeth over the next 20 years. Does the County Council want all Morpeth's growth to be to the south of the town, with none elsewhere? Two thirds of the town is already to the south of the river. How much more traffic would those extra homes create crossing the river to reach the Middle and High Schools, GP surgeries, main shops etc. This proposal is utter madness.

We hope that all our Town Council colleagues will support our concern for Morpeth and there will be an opportunity to discuss the issues at the Full Council meeting next week.

Morpeth Town Councillors:

Ken Brown

Alison Byard

Les Cassie

Mark Horton

Stuart Lishman

David Parker

Dave Pope

Andrew Tebbutt

Joan Tebbutt

Traffic Lights set to Go?

A number of interested parties, including Lib Dem & Tory County Councillors, Town Councillors, Rail & Cycle Users, the Chamber of Trade and many more, signed up to participating in a full review of Morpeth's traffic issues (not just the traffic lights) led by an independent traffic expert. A very constructive meeting took place in Morpeth Town Hall on 4th March to consider the current and future pressures on the town's traffic systems.

Although the Morpeth Northern Bypass, scheduled for completion in 2016, is expected to significantly reduce congestion in the town there are other factors that will contribute to the growth in traffic in Morpeth. These include the potential for a significant increase in tourism through leisure developments north of Morpeth plus the growth in housing in the north of the town over the next 15-20 years.

Ken Brown explains, "I was pleased that all present at the meeting, regardless of their background, appeared to be in agreement that the traffic lights at Telford Bridge present a safety risk, are not right for the look & feel of a vibrant market town like Morpeth and that they should be removed. But a number of other ideas for easing traffic congestion were also proposed as there are a number of other pressures on Morpeth's transport systems & it is hoped that these will also be considered. Highways matters are fully delegated by law to highways officers and design of safe traffic controls is for experts, not politicians. My understanding is that the review will complete its work by the summer."

Andrew Tebbutt added "I do not like the lights; I have made my views about real safety concerns at the junction very clear to officers. I was instrumental in pressing officers to undertake a full review of the lights in view of the hostile reaction from the public. I am equally aware that once the lights were installed politicians could not influence their future. Conservative promises to remove the lights are not deliverable."

David Parker, who was also at the meeting, commented: "We have been saying for some time now that we have listened to the people of Morpeth and that we do not think that the traffic lights meet the present or future needs of this town either in relation to potential traffic going to the new supermarket, in relation to the street scene, or in relation to health and safety at Telford Bridge. We called for action to find an alternative solution to the situation at Telford Bridge that will meet the needs of the town and at the same time ensure that the needs of pedestrians are met in a way which is safe, and we now look forward to the outcome of the review."

Morpeth Flood Alleviation Scheme Gets Under Way....

At long last, work on the Morpeth Flood Alleviation Scheme got underway on 13 February 2013. The project, due to be completed by Autumn 2014, is being developed by the Environment Agency with £10.2m funding awarded from the Government plus £10.9m from Lib Dem led Northumberland County Council.

The first step was to remove nine Collingwood Oaks from High Stanners to clear the way for the building of flood defences. The trees had been planted in 2005 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar and the role of Morpeth resident Admiral Lord Collingwood who led the British fleet to victory. The oak trees will be relocated to 5 schools in Morpeth and to Carlisle Park.

Morpeth Town Councillor Ken Brown said "Collingwood used to spread acorns round wherever he went in Morpeth to supply wood for the building of ships and these oak trees at High Stanners are regarded as part of his legacy. It's a pity they can't remain where they are but it's great that we're not going to lose them. Re-planting them at the schools is spreading a little of the heritage around the town. It's a lovely way to start this project that has taken a long time to get up and running. The major delay was in finding the finance to deliver it after the Government changed its funding arrangements. It's only happening now because of the strong support and funding from the County Council. It's an impressive joint effort by the Environment Agency, the Morpeth Flood Action Group and County and Town Councillors"

The photo on the left shows Northumberland County Council Leader Jeff Reid (second from left) making the first cut in the removal of the first Collingwood Oak before its replanting at Abbeyfields School. Also in the photo are Morpeth Town Councillor Les Cassie (3rd from left), Morpeth Flood Action Group member John Best (2nd from right), Morpeth Town Councillor Ken Brown (far right) as well as project team members from the Environment Agency and the County Council.

Bad Planning….

Cottingwood Lane, Pottery Bank, Loansdean, Salisbury Gardens….

..….These are just a few examples of recent Planning applications that many Morpeth residents found unacceptable for our town. Lib Dem Councillors gave strong support to the objectors and we all enjoyed our initial success. However, appeals and revised applications are coming back to haunt us once again. Whilst we will all once again expend the necessary energy and effort to protect our town from inappropriate development, with many developers seeing Morpeth as a potential gold mine for their activities we have to ask…..

How many more???? What can we do about it????

Thankfully, the Lib Dem led Morpeth Town Council has secured funding to preparing a Neighbourhood Plan for the town and the surrounding area. Lib Dem councillors encouraged the Town Council to petition the Government to achieve this and in March 2012 we learned that we had been successful.

When completed, the Plan will steer the development of Morpeth for the next 15-20 years. As can be seen from the many planning applications that we are opposing, Morpeth is under significant pressure from developers and planning decisions are being attempted in a piecemeal fashion, without any clear vision of what we, the residents of the town, want Morpeth to be in the future.

Do you want Morpeth to be a commuter base for Tyneside? Or a vibrant market town? Or a centre for shopping, attracting people from around the region?

Ken Brown, Chair of the Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group, said "Whatever you want for Morpeth, there is now an opportunity to have your say. There are groups or residents now coming together to consider Housing, the Local Economy, the Local Environment and Heritage. It is not too late to join them. More people are needed to look at the town's Education, Transport, Infrastructure and Sport & Leisure requirements. Whilst it will take nearly two years for a Plan to be formally adopted, the fact that we have a draft Plan or that we can demonstrate that we are working towards one will help prevent what we would deem to be inappropriate developments. I strongly urge residents to take this unique opportunity".

If you are interested in the Neighbourhood Plan process please use any of the contact details in FOCUS to learn more or see the website