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Northumberland County Hall move: the next steps

County Hall has been based in Morpeth since 1981 Photo: ITV News Tyne Tees

Detailed plans will be drawn up to move the headquarters of Northumberland County Council from Morpeth. The council's preferred option is to build a new, smaller HQ in Ashington.

Even though the two towns are just a few miles apart, the proposal has prompted strong reactions in both communities.

Morpeth is the administrative centre of Northumberland Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

In Morpeth, many people are concerned the departure of County Hall will reduce vital job opportunities.

"Morpeth looks affluent from an outsider's perspective. That's very true. But if you scratch deep down below the surface you need to have a different variation of jobs to support the town. Economically we are very reliant on retail and County Hall for our job prospects."

– Ken Stait, Morpeth trader
Ashington has struggled to recover from loss of mining Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

Four miles down the road in Ashington, the proposal to relocate the council headquarters there has been met with delight. Among those welcoming the idea is Sir John Hall, who chairs the umbrella group, Ashington Town Team. He says the move would help to kickstart its economic revival.

"(The High Street) needs a lot of reburbishment, it needs a lot more income and this is the start. You've got to get cranes on the skyline if you're going to break the cycle of decline and this is that bold decision which, in my view, would make those changes happen."

– Sir John Hall, Ashington Town Team Chairman

The Ashington proposal is part of a much wider regeneration plans for the former mining town, including a new leisure centre.

The Labour leader of Northumberland County Council says the new, smaller HQ would save the authority millions of pounds in running costs. Cllr Grant Davey says the council would also utilise other buildings across the county, in towns such as Hexham, Blyth and Alnwick.

We have an opportunity second to none. We can build a good facility for a lot less people here in Ashington and move the remainder of our workforce back to the market towns across Northumberland."

– Cllr Grant Davey, Northumberland County Council Leader

Cllr Davey says it makes sense to base the HQ in South East Northumberland, as it has the largest concentration of population in Northumberland.

"This is where we should be", he commented.

Some, though, believe the council is favouring Labour's urban heartlands.

"We want something that's in the heart of Northumberland if it's going to be the heart of Northumberland County Council, Ashington is very much on the fringes of Northumberland and fairly inaccessible for most parts of the county. That's what gives us the feeling that it's politically motivated."

– Cllr Peter Jackson, Conservative Group Leader

Detailed plans will now be drawn up for the proposed move. Decisions are expected in the autumn.

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