Border war breaks out

A ROW is brewing over who will govern one of Northumberland’s major towns when the county switches to a unitary council.

A ROW is brewing over who will govern one of Northumberland’s major towns when the county switches to a unitary council.

Andrew Tebbutt

It is planned to create three “characteristic communities” to work below the all-purpose Northumberland Council that is due to take over from the current two-tier structure in 2009.

Broadly, one characteristic community will cover Blyth Valley and Wansbeck, another the Berwick and Alnwick districts and the third Castle Morpeth and Tynedale.

Each will be responsible for devolved local services – in areas such as planning, street services and community facilities – and have its own area committee and area partnership.

But now there is a disagreement over which of the geographical areas the town of Morpeth and part of its rural hinterland should be in.

Under proposals from Northumberland Strategic Partnership, Morpeth will be in the western characteristic community, which also takes in Ponteland, Hexham and Prudhoe.

But Morpeth Town Council and eight parish councils strongly oppose that, saying they have more in common with north Northumberland.

Now Liberal Democrat councillors in Castle Morpeth have taken up the fight on behalf of Morpeth and its surrounding villages, and accused the borough council of failing to make its views clear. The 12-strong Lib-Dem group says debate on the matter was stifled by a procedural motion at last week’s meeting of the council.

Deputy leader Coun Andrew Tebbutt said: “Not only am I frustrated by the actions of this administration, I feel very sorry for a number of parish councils in and around Morpeth that gave their legitimate views on where they think they best fit but have not been heard by the borough council.

“Any views that the council puts through to the new authority are therefore flawed, as they do not reflect opinion across the borough. Location in a characteristic community is very important because it will determine resource and service allocations from April 2009.”

Parish councils against inclusion in the western community are now strengthening their written submissions to the strategic partnership before final arrangements are made.

Morpeth’s location in the western community is supported by the local regeneration agency, Advancing Castle Morpeth. Chair of the agency board Brenda Fordy-Scott says there is clear strategic and socio-economic reasoning for keeping it in the rural hinterland to Tyneside.

And Castle Morpeth Council chief executive Ken Dunbar says there “appears to be little doubt” Morpeth and its hinterland has a stronger tie with Tynedale than the “rural borderland”.

A Northumberland County Council spokeswoman said no final decision had been made and all opinions voiced by the parish and town councils would be taken into consideration.

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Natural links sought

NORTHUMBERLAND will be carved up into three characteristic communities as part of the changeover to one council, with “belonging” and “neighbourhood” communities added beneath that at an even more local level.

The three characteristic communities will each be responsible for devolved services such as parks and open spaces, street care, traffic management, community facilities such as village halls and libraries and housing management.

But the proposed boundaries of the characteristic and belonging communities have sparked controversy, with local representatives in some towns and villages saying they are being excluded from their natural communities.

The boundaries proposed for the characteristic communities are based on their socio-economic, geographical and historical similarities with the aim of developing community cohesion.

For this reason, the former coalfield villages of Lynemouth, Ellington and Linton – now part of Castle Morpeth – are proposed to be included in the south-east Northumberland characteristic community of Blyth Valley and Wansbeck.

This is because it is felt they have more in common and closer ties with former pit towns such as Ashington and Blyth than Morpeth.

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