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Letter from Joan Tebbutt to the Herald

August 4, 2016 4:30 PM
By Joan Tebbutt in The Morpeth Herald

The Editor

Morpeth Herald

Dear Editor,

Congratulations to Joyce Wotherspoon* on her brilliant letter "A resident's welcome". It would have been laugh out loud funny had not the overall message been so depressingly accurate. Joyce does well to warn new residents of what they will be taking on, as no doubt developers will be doing their utmost to ensure they see everything through rose tinted glasses. Not that Morpeth people are likely to be unwelcoming to new residents, as we are warm hearted people and would welcome them to take part in our social and cultural life and bring some youthful and energetic input into our community. Hopefully, in due course, they will also become engaged in helping us to do battle for a better deal for Morpeth.

Some things referred to by Joyce are not within the remit of local councillors to influence, such as rental level for private property, whether shops decide to close, or privately owned buildings stand empty and go unrepaired. If Joyce is referring to the Queen's Head, the town centre hotel is not up for sale, and a planning application has been submitted to demolish and rebuild while retaining the fa├žade. I refrain from comment on the application at this time.

A recent feasibility study was completed re a new Arts and Heritage Centre for Morpeth and local Councillors support the idea, although we need organisations such as the Greater Morpeth Development Trust, which is supported by the Town Council each year, to attract funding for such a project. The Neighbourhood Plan, for which Morpeth Town Council is the Qualifying Body and which came into legal force last May, referred to the need for a new Leisure Centre and Art, Performance and Heritage Centre and included a policy on the topic. That is because your local Councillors understand what is needed and listened to the results of consultation on what the community wanted in the plan. Your current local Councillors, Town and County, are working to ensure that the County Council bears this in mind when deciding upon their so called plan for Morpeth, about which County have refused an invitation to attend a public meeting.

Joyce referred to whether local councillors should be re-elected, or not, to continue their places on decision making committees next term. I therefore believe it is appropriate to make it clear exactly what is happening to Morpeth and the surrounding areas. Due to the weight of population in Northumberland being in the South East, Labour are the largest party on the County Council and, with support of "Independents" such as Cllr Lindley, who represents Stobhill, can vote through whatever they wish. In fact, the Cabinet system means that many decisions, such as the County Hall move to Ashington, are made by Cabinet without the rest of the Councillors even having an opportunity to debate, let alone vote on the matter. The Leadership rarely bothers to consult with local County Councillors and keeps them in the dark. Furthermore, Labour in County appear to have "spat their dummy out" since the people of Morpeth rejected their proposed use of the County Hall site for a crammed in superschool and leisure centre. The Labour leadership in County appears to have not only given up on Morpeth, but have determined to destroy it, sell off sites in the town and take the majority of the money elsewhere. The whole thing is very frustrating and a cause of considerable anger amongst most local councillors and the public alike.

We need the County Labour leadership to acknowledge their duty to protect the interests of our town, even if they can only understand the very practical and obvious reason that County made Morpeth a focus for residential growth. The levels of growth envisaged require appropriate infrastructure across the board, and this necessitates careful planning for the short, medium and long term. They have to forget their political motivations and act upon their duties as a Local Planning Authority and consider the consequences of the planning policies they put in place.

Believe me, some of your local councillors have been working their socks off try to defend Morpeth's interests and will continue to do so. I have repeatedly drawn attention to the anger in the town and press for effective consultation and liaison. Perhaps it would be useful if the public demonstrated to the Labour leadership that what I have been saying is true, by writing personal letters and emails to the Leader, Cllr Grant Davey, expressing politely but firmly your views.

Joan Tebbutt

Morpeth Town Councillor