The following letter was sent to the Editor of the Morpeth Herald, but not printed. The author has asked me to post it on the Liberal Democrat blog and website, and I am most grateful to him.
I applaud all the hard work and effort made by the various groups who registered objections to the 3 planning applications for the development of the County Hall site, and by those members of the public who voiced their protests by submitting formal objections to NCC, by their contributions to media coverage and by marching to County Hall, despite the pusillanimity shown by the Administration in refusing to face them.
Subsequent events have surely vindicated their efforts – the Forestry Commission’s ruling that the wanton destruction of the healthy trees around County Hall was illegal; the revelation that a programme of repairs and improvements to the present premises would cost only 25% of the (estimated) cost of relocation to Ashington; the fact that the Secretary of State has taken the unusual decision to “call-in” all 3 planning applications for the County Hall site – a decision I greatly welcome as it demonstrates that he, unlike NCC, deems it appropriate to listen to local residents.
Following your publication of my previous letter on this issue (Morpeth Herald, 02/03/17) in which I commented that Grant Davey’s leadership of NCC might persuade me to vote Tory for the first time ever, I have been made aware that this could be mis-construed! It was certainly NOT meant as a rallying-call for the Tories – rather it was merely a reflection on how far I might be forced to compromise most of my political beliefs because of my disgust at the present Administration!
I have read very carefully all the electioneering literature which has recently been delivered. I, and I suspect many other Morpethians, have a greater interest in next month’s local elections than ever before. I have even contacted my local candidates on the specific issue of the necessity to relocate County Hall and the possibility of retaining it on the present site if there should be a change in the balance of power on NCC after the elections. However much I might welcome the Tory pledge that they would “halt the relocation …dead in its tracks”, I wondered how realistic this might be – so I asked! They reiterated the pledge. But then I wondered to what extent the present Administration might have hedged the terms of the Ashington contract with exorbitant penalty clauses for cancellation of the contract. Whatever my personal preferences as to the siting of County Hall, I am aware that NCC has finite cash resources and they cannot simply write a “blank cheque” to write off potentially swingeing cancellation penalties – perhaps there ARE times when the heart has to listen to the head – I am certainly under no illusions that the present Administration, in its arrogant disregard of resident’s concerns and its refusal to engage in discussion with interested parties, will be forthcoming about the terms of the contract.
There is, perhaps, a temptation to assume that all recent protests have merely been a case of “Nimbyism” by those of us living at the South end of the town, but this really is not the case. Out-of-town retail development, increased traffic congestion and pollution, pressure on parking facilities, loss of green spaces, increased flooding risk and extra pressure on Morpeth’s already inadequate infrastructure (roads, sewage disposal, school places, medical facilities etc) will affect ALL Morpeth residents, irrespective of where they live. That is why we have a Morpeth NEIGHBOURHOOD Plan, eventually accepted as having legal status despite the failure of NCC to produce an overall County “Core Stategy” – something that should have been in place years ago.
My impression is that folk in Morpeth are more politically-motivated than for some time, such is the depth of feeling about the escalating destruction of the “rural market town” character of Morpeth, so I hope this is reflected in a unprecedented turn-out of the electorate in May.
The nature of democracy is, of course, that I might not like the outcome of the vote! I might, for instance, live to greatly regret the jumping out of the Labour “frying pan” into, say, a Tory “fire” of election promises which turn out to be unrealistic and undeliverable without incurring huge financial burdens!
I want my Administration to be fair; to be equable in their treatment of all Northumberland’s residents, rather than preferentially favouring a (geographically) tiny urban region (but which traditionally and massively votes to maintain a particular political bias, keeping them in power) – am I being naïve in this? If so, surely I cannot be alone in my concerns?
Dr Jared Johnson