AN EDUCATION centre in Northumberland could be set to close as part of a council’s savings drive.
Northumberland County Council is considering giving up its lease to operate Ford Castle, near Wooler, it has confirmed.
Ford Parish Council last night said the site is an important employer and a valuable education facility which brings people to the area, before adding it would be “very sorry” to see it close.
The site has been leased by the council from the Ford and Etal Estates since 1956 and acts as a residential centre for school children during term time. During weekends and school holidays, it is available for hire for weddings, conferences and the hosting of adult education courses.
Now however, the council is thought to be considering relinquishing its lease for the site as a cost-cutting exercise as it has been ordered to make over £100m in savings by the government over the next four years.
The council’s executive is to be updated on some key issues relating to the lease and operations of the castle, by its corporate director of local services in a private session on Monday.
The authority has confirmed it is considering giving up the lease but insists this is only one of a number of options.
It is understood the council is considering pulling out of the castle because of the costs of repairs.
It is also understood a condition of the authority’s lease means it is entirely responsible for any repairs.
Such costs are said to run into millions of pounds and as a result the council is considering giving up the lease, despite bookings being in place for this and next year. Last night the castle’s owner, Lord James Joicey, said he knew nothing of the council’s intentions relating to the lease.
Referring to the discussion at next week’s council meeting, he said: “It will be an internal matter I would think to do with them. We do not get involved.”
Lord Joicey said the council had taken out a 50-year lease in 1956 which had subsequently been extended and that a rolling notice period applies should the council wish to give it up.
David Lockie, chairman of Ford Parish Council, claimed the local authority had considered relinquishing the lease previously around a decade ago, before deciding against it. Coun Lockie said the parish would be disappointed if the county pulls out.
“The Ford Castle is an important employer locally and we would be very sorry if the county council ceased using it.
“Quite a number of people in the locality work there and it is quite an asset for the county. It has been threatened before and let us hope that common sense prevails. It is of huge benefit to the youngsters that use it and adults. We would certainly hope that the county council continue to use it.”
The county pulling out would have a knock-on effect on the surrounding area, the councillor added.
He said youngsters and adults can be seen out and about in the Ford area when weddings or adult courses are on at the castle. “It definitely has a wider benefit than just the people that work here.”
Coun Lockie acknowledged, however, that the county would be “looking at everything” as it seeks areas in which to make savings.
A council spokeswoman said of the possible giving up of the lease: “That is one of the options we are investigating but it is only one of various options.”
Ford Castle is where King James IV of Scotland spent his last night before being killed in the Battle of Flodden in 1513.
During the 1880s the castle was owned by Louisa, Marchioness of Waterford, whose murals and watercolour paintings are displayed in Ford village, and are nationally recognised.
The Joicey family bought the estate and castle in 1907.