A LANDMARK decision by council bosses to buy the empty Northern Rock tower has been thrown into doubt.
Newcastle’s opposition Labour group has called in a decision by ruling Liberal Democrat city councillors to approve the purchase of the Gosforth tower for a reported £22m.
Meanwhile Northern Rock’s board has deferred making a decision on whether to sell the tower to Newcastle City Council.
Two weeks ago The Journal revealed how the council planned to buy the empty tower at Regent Centre and let it to green support services firm eaga.
Office space in the tower has been earmarked to house staff working for a joint company set up by the council and eaga, as part of plans which bosses say will create up to 500 new jobs and secure 2,000 more.
The council’s decision-making executive voted in private to approve plans to buy the tower. But now the Labour group has asked a series of questions about the council’s policy and why it has decided to buy the property. They say preventing a private investor from buying the tower could undermine buyer confidence in the city and are demanding the matter be discussed in public.
Eaga plans to transfer 400 staff from their office at the Watermark in Gateshead to Gosforth.
The council will move 200 people from the Civic Centre and Scottish Life House into the tower.
And the Family Health Service Authority will move 100 staff currently based at Bede House next to the Tyne Bridge on to one-and-a-half floors of the block.
The council’s Labour leader Nick Forbes said: “I think they are sending a message that investment in Newcastle is not welcome and I think the Liberal Democrats need to explain their reasons.
“The consequences of their actions will be to move jobs away from priority regeneration areas.
“The report talks about the positive benefit to the economy of jobs going to Gosforth, but it doesn’t talk about the negative effect on the economy of moving jobs from areas like Scotswood and Gateshead.”
The call-in will be discussed at a meeting on Friday.
It is thought senior council members are unhappy that Labour did not take the opportunity to ask questions at a meeting of the Executive when the decision was made, rather than calling the matter in.
Coun Forbes said: “The questions need to be answered in public. The Lib Dems have chosen to discuss this behind closed doors and I think the public needs to know about it.”
A city council spokesman refused to comment on the decision of the Northern Rock board to defer its decision.
It is thought members wanted more clarification on a number of issues. It is believed the board will meet again next week.
Ian Poll, head of democratic services, said: “I can confirm that the decision taken by the executive on April 22 relating to the property acquisition and simultaneous leasing of the tower at the Regent Centre has been called in for scrutiny.
“This is part of the standard checks and balances of the council.”