The Leader’s “windfall”

So the County’s Esteemed Leader has announced a “bigger than expected windfall” for Northumberland residents, as the sale of the County Hall site is likely to bring in more money than anticipated. It appears disingenuous to refer to this as a “windfall” as, not only has the sale been on the cards for some time, but it was a very deliberate decision.  Furthermore, the value of the site is no surprise to most of us, despite what “world class auditors Ernst & Young” predicted.  Note however, that this is described as a windfall for the County in general, as most of the money raised will go out of Morpeth, by the Leader’s own admission.

He appears totally confident that he can ensure “the best new facilities for the people of Morpeth” at the same time as delivering “the best financial package for the whole of the county.”  It is unclear how those two superlatives go together and also unclear how County know what it is that the people of Morpeth actually want, since he has refused to talk to us until their plans are completed. He refers to “facilities” being provided for us, but it remains to be seen whether that statement will turn out to be true, or whether the majority of the site will be sold for housing, as he admitted to me recently.

The Leader’s statement is confusing. He talks about there being “more money than anticipated to reinvest in restoring front line services.” The next paragraph however, says that the profits generated by selling off County Hall “will fund vastly-improved key facilities for residents all over Northumberland in their nearest market town.” Which is it, services or facilities? Seems like a rosy red glow to me.

In his letter in the Morpeth Herald of 8th September, the Leader yet again referred to “hundreds of frontline jobs” being returned to “the heart of the nine market towns”. I wish he would tell us where in the heart of Morpeth there is space for these jobs and how much it will cost to provide offices in the nine market towns.  He also refers to the mythical £16million freed up from not having to restore the “crumbling” County Hall. I understand that a detailed report says the cost would be £9million but that report has not been widely distributed. Where is Scrutiny in all this? (It’s chaired by Labour, rather than the opposition, as it should be.) And why is County Hall crumbling? It was opened by Prince Charles in only 1982, so in the decades that Labour ran the Council they must have saved a fortune in not maintaining it if it has deteriorated to that extent.

As for the hoardings appearing all over, it is not the colour or message that cause anger amongst residents, but the promotional photographs of the Leader, and in some places the Deputy Leader.

The Tories on the other hand, appear to change the message according to what suits them at the time. When the Lib Dems ran the County Council the Tory Leader criticised them for not selling off unwanted assets, even though he chaired the committee dealing with sales and the market was so depressed that nothing was selling. Now he criticises the selling of unwanted assets. I don’t have a problem with selling off what is unneeded when the market is right, but my main interest is what happens on the sites post sale and whether my town becomes the county’s cash cow without substantial development to meet its needs as a focus for growth. We will not see any plan for infrastructure spending to cater for this growth until after the Core Strategy is completed, and that is likely to be modified again and subject to yet further consultation. What a shambles!

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About Joan Tebbutt

Joan is a Morpeth Town Councillor representing Morpeth Kirkhill, and previously represented the area on Castle Morpeth Borough Council and the County Council before it became a Unitary Authority. She has been a school governor for 14 years and is Chair of Governors at Morpeth County First School (Goosehill). A former Mayor of Morpeth (2013/14) she is Chair of Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group and Chair of the Town Council's Planning and transport Committee.
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