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