Northumberland County Hall move decision called in by opposition groups

Northumberland County Council's decision to progress plans to move from its Morpeth base has been called in by opposition groups

Northumberland County Council, County Hall, Morpeth
Northumberland County Council, County Hall, Morpeth

A North council’s decision to progress its planned relocation could be overturned following a joint request from opposition groups.

Labour-run Northumberland County Council’s recent decision to develop a detailed move plan for its switch from Morpeth to Ashington has been ‘called in’ in a joining of forces by the authority’s Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups.

The move means the Labour controlled policy board’s decision will be looked at by a council scrutiny committee and could then be referred back to the board and ultimately the full authority for the final say.

A Tory councillor labelled the move “a very important issue for the people of Northumberland” which “needs to be fully and openly debated.”

Yet Labour labelled the call in “premature” and accused the councillor of “playing politics.”

The council revealed plans earlier this year to move from its County Hall base and set up nine service hubs around the county as part of a move to save money and decentralise services.

It later revealed its ambition to create a new headquarters at Ashington.

Morpeth Town Council set up a petition opposing the relocation which 600 people signed.

Independent consultants then recommended the move proceed claiming it would offer savings in the region of £10m to £14m over 25 years.

They also claimed the switch would generate economic activity of nearly £53 million for Ashington and £56 million for Morpeth by releasing County Hall to development.

Yet the switch was opposed by one vote at the authority’s economic prosperity and strategic services overview and scrutiny committee last month.

Instead calls were made for the policy board to defer any decision until “much further work” has been undertaken, including the formation of a working group to re-examine the rationale behind the consultants’ reports.

Yet the policy board agreed earlier this month to develop the detailed move plan - with a view to the changes being implemented by 2018.

Now, the Tory and Lib Dem opposition groups have joined forces with six councillors signing a request to call in the decision.

The move means an authority overview and scrutiny committee will consider whether it was appropriate at its meeting on October 28.The committee will be recommended to ask the policy board to give the final say to the full council.

Coun David Bawn, member for Morpeth North
Coun David Bawn, member for Morpeth North
 

Tory county councillor for Morpeth North David Bawn said: “Once again opposition councillors have had to force the administration into the council chamber to debate a controversial, rushed and ill-thought through proposal.

“As with post 16 school transport, this is a very important issue for the people of Northumberland and it needs to be fully and openly debated.

“I am shocked that the administration has not voluntarily referred this to full council and have once again had to be dragged kicking and screaming before councillors to justify their decision.”

Yet a Labour group spokesperson said: “This call in is premature.

“It doesn’t relate to the decisions taken by policy board which were to note the economic information tabled and authorise the lead director to undertake further exploratory works.

“That will result in a substantive report for policy board.

“Councillor Bawn is playing politics.

“Of 17 grounds for call in tabled by the opposition, 17 relate to decisions not taken yet and he’s actually seeking consultation on a document that hasn’t been put together yet.

“A legitimate call in has to be based on the decisions being challenged.

“This call in goes beyond that constitutional remit in our view.

“It is the decision of the council legal team to interpret the constitution but it is our view that this call in is political and is premature as the decisions haven’t even been taken yet.”

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