Guerilla gardeners who risked prosecution in order to tidy up eyesore sites have staged a protest.
A group of people who live at Morpeth last year trespassed onto the grounds of Northumberland County Council’s derelict 19th century Willows and Beechfield properties to carry out an impromptu clean up.
They have now staged a protest at the sites to call for the cherished buildings not to be bulldozed as part of new development planned, and for more consultation with local people.
The buildings, which are on the same site on Gas House Lane, date from before 1860. They were bought by the county council in 1930 with Willows subsequently used as a centre for the unemployed.
During the Second World War, Beechfield housed a first aid centre and air raid precautions headquarters while Willows was used by the Red Cross.
After the war the buildings were used by the employment committee and school grounds department, and in 1952 became the County Library headquarters.
Willows is a former care home.
However, both sites are said to have stood derelict for more than 10 years, with their grounds becoming overgrown.
Residents led by David E. Clark, of Morpeth Town Council, and friend Garry Featherstone, a building surveyor and Master Builder with a special interest in historic buildings, decided to take matters into their own hands in September last year.
They sought legal advice on the laws of trespass and gained access to the grounds to carry out a clean up.
Since then, the county council has unveiled plans for a riverside development at the sites, as part of a blueprint for the town and Northumberland as a whole.
The gardeners arranged a protest on Tuesday afternoon through Facebook group Morpeth Matters. Thirty people turned out at just 24 hours notice.
Coun Clark said protestors were motivated by desire to retain the cherished buildings in some form and a lack of involvement of local people in what is to happen at the sites.
“Thirty people turned up just to demonstrate their anger and frustration at the fact the county council have not even consulted with the general public, they just seem to take these decisions without any kind of consultation and they are here just to knock down our heritage.
“Morpeth has lost lots of old buildings. Once they are erased, they are gone forever. These buildings should be retained in some shape or form.”
The protestors have been backed by county councillor for Morpeth David Bawn.
“I am sure I am not the only person in Morpeth with some disquiet about the masterplan released by Northumberland County Council regarding the re-siting of various facilities in Morpeth, which to my mind goes against the spirit of the emerging Neighbourhood Plan.
“With specific reference to the attractive Victorian Willows building, I agree that this area of the riverside and corner of the town desperately needs to be redeveloped, but we must do all we can to protect our town’s historic built environment.
“It is self evident that any redevelopment must incorporate the existing historic buildings rather than demolish them.”
A county council spokesman said:
“The council believes that the existing library site and adjoining buildings at The Willows and Beechfield could form a site to be used for a landmark riverside development for the benefit of the town.
“These proposals are obviously at an early stage and are subject to a number of factors.
“We will be working with the town council and the neighbourhood plan group as we develop future proposals.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 14 May 2015
County councillors in Northumberland have been accused of “undesirable” behaviour by their peers and of not putting the best interests of residents first.
Some members of Labour-run Northumberland County Council also admit to having “no interest” in the authority and are “distracted by negativity,” a report by officers and members of other local authorities has found.
The report claims the behaviour of some members is “not providing a sufficiently grown up atmosphere” in which to operate and calls on them to behave in a more “statesman-like” fashion.
> Bloody hell ! Anyone who has ever heard what goes on at Westminster will be now wondering just how bad things must be here !
On the back of the findings, the council’s senior officer said it referred to a number of “misleading claims” which damaged the authority’s reputation such as that its planned new headquarters will cost £40m and that a £20,000 car bought for use by its chairman is a Limousine.
An opposition councillor at the authority accused leaders of issuing outrageous and demonstrably untrue statements and intemperate blog posts.
They hit back saying their critic appeared “hell bent” on proving the report’s findings right.
The conduct of members comes under fire in a Local Government Association ‘peer challenge’ of the authority, in which it is visited and assessed by the council by senior officers and councillors from other local authorities around the country.
“There are concerns that not all elected members from all political groups appear to put the best interests of Northumberland residents first, either in their interactions with other elected members, or how they engage with the council more broadly.
“Put bluntly, there are some undesirable member behaviours which are detrimental to the council operating effectively, having a negative effect on its external reputation and internal functioning.
“Increasing tensions and increased media opportunities are to a degree somewhat inevitable as politicians become focused on the 2015 general election, but councillors need to remember that they are the external face of Northumberland County Council and campaigns in the media can be detrimental to everyone and the council’s reputation.
“There are also some concerns about how members interact with officers and with each other.”
The report adds:
“Political negativity from some elected members is not providing a sufficiently grown up atmosphere conducive to trust and neither is it in the best interests of local residents.
“Some members openly declare that they have no interest in ‘the council’ although they are members of the council…
“The behaviours of some members need to improve, and a disproportionate amount of time seems to be spent in attacking the council, resulting in officers then having to deal with the fall-out, rather than developing or influencing policies for the greater good. “Opportunities to build relationships and build trust need to be explored, so that members and officers can focus on the big issues ahead, rather than being distracted by negativity, which is draining for everyone.”
The peer challenge recommends the authority “work harder to help all elected members to understand their roles in representing the council and being more statesman-like, irrespective of seniority or political persuasion.”
Responding to the findings, council lead executive director Steve Mason said:
“The comments made refer to misleading claims which damage the reputation and standing of the county council.
“For example current claims that the proposed new civic headquarters in Ashington will cost £40million (current estimates around £20million), publicity over a £20,000 car claimed to be a limousine which will save the council money and the level of debate, and on occasion the personal nature of such debate, surrounding the post 16 transport review.
“And while it is only natural there will sometimes be differences of opinion between members, this area of improvement highlighted by the team is already in our proposed action plan and the existing code of conduct and Nolan principles will be an early discussion topic for the next group leaders’ meeting.”
Conservative David Bawn said:
“Sometimes senior members of the administration need to be careful to be seen to act in a statesmanlike manner, this isn’t helped by some of the outrageous and demonstrably untrue statements that have emanated from the leader’s office to the local press on periodic occasions and some of the intemperate posts made on behalf on his blog.”
Leader Grant Davey hit back:
“It seems local Conservatives are hell bent on proving the findings of this independent report led by the leader of Conservative controlled Wiltshire County Council right.
“Their response to a report which highlighted how well the council was progressing and how staff were rising to the challenges of a very challenging cuts agenda was to attack the leader of the council and council staff.
“It’s neither constructive nor is it what residents expect from their elected members and I do hope they sit down and study the report properly and reflect on their ill advised comments especially the comments about ‘damaging political behaviour.’”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 26 Jan 2015
Research shows the employment rate in coalfield areas is lower than elsewhere, with fewer jobs per people, more than 25 years after the pit closures of the 1980s.
More people in those areas also report long-term health problems and more claim out-of-work benefits.
Now, an MP in the region has claimed the coalfields “haven’t recovered from the devastation of the ideological attacks of the eighties and nineties” and blamed “recent government policies” for making matters worse.
Dave Anderson, Labour MP for Blaydon joined a body set up to regenerate Britain’s coalfields in calling on the government to invest in former pit areas.
Yet Conservative councillor David Bawn defended the government, insisting employment in the region overall is actually on the up.
The ‘State of the Coalfields’ report was commissioned by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and carried out by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University.
It found the employment rate in the largest UK coalfields is between 2% and 7% lower than the average for England and Wales, and between 5% and 10% lower than the South East.
There are only 50 jobs for every 100 adults of working age in the coalfields, where more than 5.5 million people are said to live, significantly lower than the national average of 67%.
It also claims 11.7% of people living in the coalfields report long-term health problems compared to 8.6% nationally. Some 8.4% of adults claim incapacity benefit, 2.2% higher than the national average and almost double the South East England average.
The report also claims that 14% of adults in the coalfields are on out-of-work benefits, 4% higher than the national average.
Mr Anderson, chairman of the Coalfield Communities All-Party Parliamentary Group, said: “This report confirms what those of us who still live in the coalfields know only too well, that as always it’s the people at the sharp end of society who get hit the hardest in times of austerity.
“The coalfields haven’t recovered from the devastation of the ideological attacks of the eighties and nineties and this report shows that recent government policies have only made matters worse.
“Now more than ever we have to champion the work of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and demand that it is properly funded on a sustainable basis.”
Chairman of the regeneration trust Peter McNestry added: “We have come a long way in the last 15 years but the recession had a disproportionate effect on the people living and working in the coalfields, which means they continue to need our support, guidance and funding.
“The coalfields simply want the opportunity to get back on their feet. These towns and villages could thrive and make a positive contribution to the country if we give them the chance.”
Yet Conservative Mr Bawn, a Northumberland County Councillor for Morpeth, said some of the data is out of date and “the periods quoted vary between 2011 to 2013 and therefore make meaningful comparisons difficult.”
He added: “However, if you refer to the lastest figures released by the Office for National Statistics showing the figures up to April this year you will notice that employment in the North East has increased by 1.5% and is one of the largest increases in the country just behind the South West on 1.6%.
“We are not out of the woods yet, but the Government’s long term plan is working. The economic indicators are getting better all the time, and the main thing that could derail our recovery is the prospect of Ed Milliband in Downing Street.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 29 July 2014
Conservatives in Northumberland are demanding an inquiry into how polling cards for last week’s Euro elections were not sent to voters in a county town.
The Tories are angry that cards were not sent to around 400 people in the Kirkhill ward of Morpeth, and also at High Stanners in the town, ahead of last Thursday’s European elections.
They claim they were contacted by people who wrongly believed they could not vote without the cards.
The Tories have claimed the turnout in the ward was just 19% – although the council dispute this figure.
They also say the party has strong support in the area and claim the failure to send out cards could have been crucial given that Tory MEP Martin Callanan lost his seat by 2,500 votes.
> Although 400 missed votes – even assuming that all the people would (a) have voted at all, and (b) would have voted Conservative if they did vote, still doesn’t add up to 2500 votes. Callanan would have lost anyway.
Dave Herne of Morpeth Conservatives, who was the county council candidate for the ward in 2013, said: “The reports that polling cards were not issued are very concerning.
“People in Kirkhill who always vote in elections will have been waiting for the cards wrongly, but not unreasonably assuming that a card is necessary to vote.
“The Conservative team heard from a number of people who thought they could not vote on the day and from the looks of it about 400 or so people may not have exercised their right as a result, perhaps more. We are very keen to understand how and why this happened.
“The Conservative party lost a seat in the European Elections by just 2,500 votes.
“Kirkhill has a history of voting Conservative and with increasing levels of support and the votes lost there would have made the result closer that much is certain.
“I will be writing to Northumberland County Council and taking advice from the Electoral Commission if necessary to help understand what has happened, and where else it happened in Northumberland.
“I would hate to think that the North East has been deprived of a fantastic MEP like Martin Callanan through errors by Northumberland County Council.”
> I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that the removal Callanan has actually made the North East just a little bit less deprived.
County councillor for Morpeth North David Bawn added: “I am becoming increasingly alarmed regarding this issue, we know that areas of Morpeth did not receive polling cards prior to the European elections last week, and consequently turnout in those areas was much lower than we would expect.
“Normally Morpeth has a relatively high turnout in elections, but this time the turnout across Morpeth was much lower than the North East region average which is unprecedented, therefore it is clear that this error may have affected the result of what was a very close race in Northumberland.
“This is unacceptable, we need an urgent investigation to establish the extent and the cause of this problem to ensure that it does not happen again.”
A county council spokesman said: “We have been made aware that some electors in the Morpeth area, generally streets between Spelvit Bridge and the River Wansbeck, may not have received poll cards ahead of the European Elections on May 22. These cards were issued to all electors and this is a Royal Mail issue.
“However electors do not need a poll card to vote and as long and as they are registered and eligible they could go along to their polling station at Morpeth Storey Park Community Centre and vote as normal.
“Not all electors in this area were affected and no other polling districts had this issue.”
The council said the turnout at Morpeth Storey Park Community Centre was in fact around 22% in person, not including postal votes – “very similar to everywhere else for a European election.”
Royal Mail spokeswoman Jennifer Bird said: ”Royal Mail has delivered all the poll cards for the Morpeth area that it received from another mail operator working for the council. We take the delivery of polling cards very seriously.
“If further evidence can be provided, we would be happy to investigate the matter further.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 28 May 2014