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Northumberland County Council accused of targeting rural areas for cuts; The authority has been accused of targeting rural areas for cuts, while spending millions on a new HQ in urban Ashington.

Byline: Brian Daniel

Council bosses in Northumberland have been accused of targeting rural areas for cuts while pressing ahead with a multi-million pound scheme for a new base in their urban heartland.

As we previously reported, Northumberland County Council is proposing to close Haydon Bridge fire station as part of [pounds sterling]500,000 cuts to its fire service.

Now the Labour run council has also announced the closure of Ponteland Library with facilities to move into the town's leisure centre - at the same time as releasing images of how its proposed new [pounds sterling]33m base in its traditional South East heartland at Ashington would look.

Coun Peter Jackson, leader of the Conservative main opposition group on the council, said: "It is clear from the current diktat from the Labour run County Hall that the main thrust of these changes is being applied to the more rural areas of our county, whilst Ashington and Blyth yet again get off scot-free.

"How can local Labour plead poverty at the county council when they are still bringing forward plans for the unwanted and unnecessary scheme to waste over [pounds sterling]40m of tax payers' money on the new County Hall in Ashington."

But council deputy leader Dave Ledger stressed that major school and leisure developments are planned at Morpeth and Ponteland.

He added: "He (Coun Jackson) clearly hasn't read all the information as it's also the South East which is being impacted upon in the proposals, which include removing a retained fire appliance from West Hartford."

The council has said the library at Ponteland is closing with facilities to move into the leisure centre in order to "make important savings" by co-locating services.

The authority has blamed a cut in funding from the Government as a result of which it needs to make [pounds sterling]44m of savings over the next two years.

Council bosses say the scheme could include a creche and improved toilet facilities and that it will allow library services to be open later.

The move is planned to be completed by April. Coun Jackson said he and Ponteland's three other county councillors are against it.

He claimed there is concern among people in Ponteland that the library is being moved from the town centre to a site further out which will make it more difficult to get to on foot for the largely elderly population.

Coun Jackson also questioned having a library next door to a noisy sports hall and swimming pool, and said it is already difficult to park at the leisure centre.

The fire service cuts propose the closure of Haydon Bridge, the removal of the fire engine at West Hartford and replacement of other traditional big engines at Alnwick, Ponteland, Seahouses and Wooler with smaller appliances.

Bosses say they have to cut [pounds sterling]500,000 from the service this year in addition to [pounds sterling]1.5m they have had to remove the previous two.

The Fire Brigades' Union has said lives could be lost as a result of the proposals and that they pose a risk to firefighters.

Coun Jackson spoke against the closure of Haydon Bridge station, saying it is "valued by that local community and protects life and limb along a very dangerous section of the A69."

He added: "It is quite clear that there is ample scope for measures which will make our local fire service more efficient and effective."

The new images of the proposed County Hall at Ashington show a building which is around half the size of the current Morpeth base which would accommodate around 1,300 staff over five storeys.

Forming part of the wider Portland Park development in Ashington, the proposed town centre site would include a new customer service centre, cafe, meeting rooms, workspaces and an innovative council chamber which could double as a community theatre, conference hall or cinema space.

The current relocation estimates put the cost at just over [pounds sterling]33m, with a projected long-term economic benefit for the area of around [pounds sterling]89m.

Construction could start as early as August 2016 with staff moving in by September 2018.
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Publication:The Chronicle (Newscastle upon Tyne, England)
Date:Nov 7, 2015
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