With only four months left before the May 2017 elections, and given that a move to Ashington was not specifically referred to in the 2013 Labour manifesto, an attempt was made by Northumberland Conservatives to put a motion to the Full Council meeting to delay final approval of the proposed move until after the election. The motion was to delay only, not to overturn the plan.
A delay to give the new council an opportunity to consider the plans afresh after May would improve democratic accountability and be entirely reasonable. The new council should not have to be bound by the previous administration’s actions, with them effectively “legislating from the grave” over a highly controversial and unpopular strategy.
Unfortunately, reasonable debate is impossible due to misleading and confrontational rhetoric on the part of both Labour and the Conservatives. Neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrats had a full turn out because of illness and long-standing engagements. But Labour turned out in force and their “Independent” friends gave them the majority necessary to defeat the motion. I had been ill for a couple of weeks and would definitely have voted in favour of the motion, but that would have made no difference.
Lib Dems believe that Labour’s proposal to move is a strategic error not in the best, long-term interests of Ashington, Morpeth, the wider county or the Council. For Ashington, massive public spending and using up land close to the town centre will squeeze out the potential for much needed private investment.
Whilst the Conservatives agreed with Lib Dem leader Jeff Reid, they only argued in terms of cost. Labour insisted that the move is part of their “Market Towns Initiative” that will see jobs decentralised to market towns. No explanations, no staff numbers, no details of their destinations or costs of their offices have been unveiled. Neither have they explained why decentralisation of jobs from Ashington is possible, but not from Morpeth. Potentially therefore, the decentralisation that all three parties wish to see is likely to be the part of the package that would disappear after May if Labour are re-elected and find there is no money left after their Ashington bonanza.
The Labour leader, having mimicked the residents of Morpeth crying like children about the new houses, went on to say he would borrow £250million and that the former Lib Dem administration had ‘no vision’, and ‘lacked ambition’. He had to be reminded that the Lib Dems built the new sports centre in Ashington, the flood alleviation works for Morpeth and the Morpeth Northern Bypass. We also proposed lending money to the NHS to get out of their PPI contract.
After 35 years of neglect by Labour it was the Liberal Democrats that showed interest in Ashington, but the public money spent on the Sports Centre should be enough to demonstrate public commitment.