Northumberland County Council unveils multi-million pound spending plans

Northumberland County Council has announced multi-million pound spending plans, including new leisure centres and schools

Exterior of County Hall in Morpeth Northumberland
Exterior of County Hall in Morpeth Northumberland

Council bosses in Northumberland have announced multi-million pound plans for replacement of leisure centres and schools in their budget proposals.

Labour leaders on Northumberland County Council have revealed ambitions to spend more than £50m replacing leisure centres at Morpeth and Ponteland, as well as opening a new facility at Hadston.

They have also announced plans to rebuild three schools at Ponteland from a £46m fund, before assessing those in the Hexham area.

This is in addition to meeting the shortfall left by government investment in replacements of schools at Alnwick, Bedlington and Prudhoe.

Council chiefs have also revealed proposals to spend £30m on the reopening of the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne railway line, to invest £22m in provision of affordable housing and to build new homes across the county.

Dennis Fancett, Chairperson of SENRUG, on the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne railway line
Dennis Fancett, Chairperson of SENRUG, on the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne railway line

However, Labour also plan to raise council tax by 1.99 per cent.

Authority leaders say the proposals, totalling £650m for each of the next three years, are delivered in the face of £130m being slashed from their allocation by the government, yet will create jobs across the county and boost economic performance.

But political rivals have hit out at Labour over the council tax rise, for adopting a “tax and spend approach” and for not highlighting anticipated cuts in the authority’s revenue budget.

Council leaders are currently in the process of fixing its spending plans for the next three financial years, with the current total value for each around £650m.

Their proposals include investing £10m each over years two and three in rebuilding Morpeth’s Riverside Leisure Centre and the facility at Ponteland, with each set to cost over £25m.

Labour is also planning to spend £2m on a new multi-use facility at Hadston.

The administration has furthermore spoken of plans to allocate £46m over the three years to schools, with proposals to rebuild three in Ponteland - the town’s community high, community middle and Coates Church of England middle.

Morpeth Leisure Centre
Morpeth Leisure Centre

Labour has said it will then look at building works needed at schools in Hexham.

Leaders are proposing to meeting the shortfall left by already announced government investment in rebuilds of high schools at Alnwick, Bedlington and Prudhoe, “to give children a better educational offer,” with this likely to run to around £1.5m.

Council chiefs are also planning to allocate £10m over each of the next three years on the reopening of the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line.

Labour says this will “improve the work prospects of over 200,000 residents of South East Northumberland and the rural coalfield.”

A spokesperson added: “This is a major regeneration project and will improve lives for almost two thirds of our residents.”

Furthermore, the administration is proposing to invest £22m in provision of affordable homes, with new council houses to be built at Shilbottle, Embleton and Cramlington.

The spokesman said: “We’re at early stages with the budget proposals and they involve some very tough choices as we continue to deal with coalition cuts totalling over £130m over the budget term.

“Our initial proposals will concentrate on our manifesto commitments to invest to create jobs across the county and boost economic performance in Northumberland.“Our proposed capital programme will see investment across the county with a huge boost to employment opportunities for over two thirds of the county’s residents through the re-introduction of the Ashington-Blyth-Tyne line, continued investment in affordable housing and tackling the housing waiting list, significant investment in new leisure centres in Ponteland and Morpeth and an ambitious programme to put forward plans to review and refurbish schools in Hexham and Ponteland.

“Our proposals will set out our own ‘long term economic plan’ which will boost employment, economic opportunities and support frontline services across Northumberland regardless of geography.”

Adrian Don Jeff Reid, leader of the Lib Dems in Northumberland
Jeff Reid, leader of the Lib Dems in Northumberland

Yet Coun Jeff Reid, leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat opposition group, said: “The first point to make is that this is about the capital programme and not revenue.

“The amounts of money they are saying they are going to invest is to be over several years not just in 2015/16. Most of it has already been announced, and I suspect will be announced again and again.

“The real story is the complete absence of any mention of the cuts they will be making in the revenue budget.

“The announcement that they are planning to put up council tax by the maximum is as sad as it is unnecessary. The government is still offering a grant to those councils who do not put up their council tax.

“In the final analysis this is a shallow attempt to divert our attention from the serious budget problems by promising jam tomorrow.”

Coun Peter Jackson, leader of the Conservative group, added: “These plans also demonstrate that Labour remain the ‘tax and spend’ party, confirming their plan to double the Council’s debt to nearly £1 billion during their period in power and, unlike other parts of the country, confirming their plans to increase the burden of council tax on residents during each and every year.

“The health warning for the future is that it is easy to spend money and to run up debt. But, as every house-owner knows, eventually there will be large mortgage bill to pay. For the county council this means that interest and repayment charges have to come out of the running costs of the council and at some stage services to residents will suffer”.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer