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  1. Northumberland County Council has been given the go-ahead for a car park extension near its Morpeth HQ - more than six months after it was built. The authority's strategic planning committee unanimously approved the extra spaces at Merley Croft, which are required for overflow parking since County Hall lost its current facility by the former fire station, where the new first school is being built. The application sought permission for an overflow car park for council staff and visitors on the site of the former Northumberland Care Trust building that was demolished in April 2017. The works, which took place in July last year, have provided an additional 67 spaces on top of the 56 that previously existed. At the meeting on Tuesday, Coun Jeff Reid asked why it was retrospective, particularly in light of members' concerns over a developer ignoring planning conditions on another application discussed that afternoon. Planning officer Judith Murphy said that she believed it was a timing issue, in that there was an urgent need for the extra spaces when the previous car park was lost, and it was later highlighted that the law allows for retrospective applications and they should not be treated differently.
  2. More cuts, a council tax rise of just under 4% and well over half-a-billion pounds of capital spending are on the cards in Northumberland in the coming years. The county council has now published its detailed budget for 2019-20 as well as its medium-term financial plan for the next three years, with proposals for cutting £25m out of the required savings of £36m - including £12.8m next year. Ratepayers will be doing their bit with council tax to increase by 2.99% - the maximum allowed by the Government without a local authority holding a referendum, plus a further 1% ring-fenced for adult social care. But this doesn't mean that there won't be investment in the county, with a significant £589m of spending lined up. Council leader Peter Jackson said: "We've worked tirelessly over the past year to balance our books and we're confident we'll be delivering a deliverable but ambitious budget. "We've always had bold plans and this budget will help support a thriving local economy and deliver value for money for all the communities we serve."
  3. The NHS trust running hospitals in Northumberland and North Tyneside is reaffirming how it has a wider role in supporting the community it serves. Corporate responsibility is described as the voluntary action businesses take over and above legal requirements to manage and enhance economic, environmental and societal impacts. Claire Riley, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust's executive director of corporate affairs and communications, said: "Historically, the NHS doesn't talk in terms of adding social value and I think that's a mistake." Nonetheless, the trust has for some time 'been of the mind-set that focusing in on community impact and partnerships will be better for the areas we serve', an update to the board last Thursday (January 24) said. 'We know that our local communities within North Tyneside and Northumberland are, by nature, reliant on public-sector jobs. 'We employ over 10,000 staff, many of which live and work in the local areas served. As an example, around 16 per cent of those working in Northumberland work within the health sector and one in three people employed in areas such as Wansbeck and Morpeth work within the public sector.
  4. Newcastle United is set to team-up with HMP Northumberland as part of a ground-breaking new project which will see major football clubs working with local prisons. A total of 32 clubs have agreed to take part in the Twinning Project, a new collaboration between the beautiful game and HM Prisons and Probation Service The programme sees Premier League and English Football League clubs 'twinned' with their local prisons in a bid to tackle the UK's high re-offending rate. Launched ion October 31, the project aims to use football as a 'catalyst for change' and to help better prepare prisoners for release and to find employment, in turn reducing reoffending. And Newcastle United is among the first 32 football clubs to sign-up by agreeing to be 'twinned' with HMP Northumberland, near Morpeth. The initiative will see the clubs, in conjunction with other football bodies, working with PE officers from the Prison Service to deliver coaching, stewarding, lifestyle skills, and other employability-based qualifications to prisoners to help them prepare for release.
  5. Mere mention the words soft play will ramp up the excitement levels in most young ones and the North East certainly has plenty choice when it comes to places which are perfect for burning off all that energy. Ok, so they may not be every parents' choice but a trip out to a soft play area is guaranteed to please the little tykes. With more than 25 such facilities in and around the region, there really is a wide enough range of facilities - from climbing walls and ball pools to slides and go-kart tracks - to please everyone and no matter how old the children are, they will be able to join in the fun. And who knows but parents may get a chance to relax and catch up with a friend over coffee while the young ones enjoy the entertainment. Here's our guide, with more to come, of some of the top soft play centres in and around Newcastle. Benfield Business Park, Walkergate
  6. He was the life and soul of the party - always laughing and always happy. But, unbeknown to his family and friends, Glenn Dixon was masking mental health problems. And to the shock of his loved ones, the 32-year-old took his own life in November. Now his family has bravely spoken of their heartbreak in the hope that other people who may be suffering can get help. His mum Jill, of Morpeth, Northumberland, said: "Glenn was always happy, always laughing - the life and soul of the party. "He was a really kind, generous person who literally would not hurt a fly. He was a vegetarian, he would not harm any creature at all, and would give the shirt off his back to help others.
  7. There will be no decision on the future of Rothbury Community Hospital until late summer to allow for "meaningful community engagement" to take place. A packed council chamber at County Hall in Morpeth on Wednesday heard an update from the NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which commissions services at the hospital, as to what happens next. The special meeting of Northumberland County Council's health and wellbeing committee took place to enable members to agree an interim response to the Health Secretary. This was because upon announcing in November that more work needed to be done locally on the next steps, following the closure of the site's 12 inpatient beds, Secretary of State Matt Hancock called for an update on progress by the end of this month. But, as the CCG's senior commissioning manager, Rachel Mitcheson, said: "It's very much a point in time on a journey we are going on." It follows the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP), a non-departmental public health body, concluding that there were flaws in the CCG's engagement and consultation processes and that 'further action locally is required to agree and implement the proposed health and wellbeing centre, potentially including inpatient beds, at Rothbury Community Hospital'.
  8. Six areas of Northumberland which have seen large numbers of new homes approved recently have been highlighted as requiring an expansion of GP and other healthcare facilities. Northumberland County Council planning officers made a presentation to last Thursday's (January 17) meeting of the health and wellbeing board about the healthcare implications of the final draft of the Local Plan, as they did at the July meeting in relation to the first draft. There are a number of policies in the document which deal with or touch on health and wellbeing elements, including one to limit the number of hot-food takeaways, but one of the main concerns remains around healthcare infrastructure. The development framework is supported by an almost 200-page Infrastructure Delivery Plan, which aims to ensure new housing is supported by the necessary services. It refers to a number of areas which 'have already seen multiple, large-scale planning applications for housing in recent years' and which 'will require increased capacity in primary-care infrastructure'. These are: Amble/Broomhill; Ashington/Newbiggin; Bedlington/Guidepost; Cramlington; Morpeth/Pegswood; Alnwick.
  9. Campaigners claim their vision for the future of healthcare in Rothbury remains the best, while urging residents to attend a key meeting this week. As previously reported, county councillors are set to agree an interim response to the Health Secretary on the future of Rothbury Community Hospital on Wednesday, January 23. Upon announcing in November that more work needed to be done locally on the next steps, following the closure of the site's 12 inpatient beds, Secretary of State Matt Hancock called for an update on progress by the end of this month. A special meeting of Northumberland County Council's health and wellbeing committee is to take place to discuss responses from health bosses to a number of review areas and questions, which were given to them at a very brief working-group meeting last month. Residents and campaigners were left furious after this largely administrative event, with major concerns as to how their voices will be heard. The Save Rothbury Community Hospital (SRCH) group says that when the committee first referred the closure to the Secretary of State in October 2017, it relied heavily on the documents compiled by the campaign team.
  10. Three years of walking in the woods has helped researchers in their mission to piece together the story of a historic landscape between three Northumbrian rivers. Members of the Bernician Studies Group have investigated 50 woods between the rivers Font, Coquet and Wansbeck. The group is an educational charity dedicated to the study of the North East and its wider connections during the early medieval era. Bernicia was a sixth century kingdom which stretched from the Forth to the Tees, and later became part of the powerful kingdom of Northumbria. The study area includes the ancient townships of Horsley, Witton, Ritton, Wingates and Stanton. Townships usually consisted of a church, manor house and farms. Members have been searching for evidence that the woodlands are ancient. That has involved looking for around 20 plant species which are typical of very old woodland, and of trees which have been pollarded and coppiced. The ancient woodland plants include bluebell, wood anemone, wild garlic, moschatel, wood speedwell, wood sorrel, woodruff, grasses and ferns.
  11. A bid to open a new coffee bar in Amble has been lodged with Northumberland County Council. Dave Langdown, from Morpeth, has submitted a notification of prior approval for the change of use of the former estate agent's office on the ground floor of 20 Bridge Street into a coffee bar. To facilitate the new business, some building works will be required, including the stripping-out of the existing internal walls, the formation of an additional toilet and a servery, and the installation of new windows and acoustic insulation/fire protection to the ceiling. The application explains that pre-packaged food, handling and service will not create odours, while waste will be recycled as much as possible and stored in the servery area before removal to waste-handling facilities. It adds that there is a bus stop immediately outside the premises on Bridge Street and there is ample, off-street parking for customers. At this stage, there are no details of the proposed opening hours for the cafe .
  12. A new home for Morpeth's Jehovah's Witnesses has been given the green light, despite neighbours' parking and traffic concerns. An application for the construction of a place of worship together with parking and external works on the town's southern edge went before the Castle Morpeth Local Area Council on Monday. Planners had recommended the scheme, for a plot behind the new Co-op on land north of Caldburne Drive, for approval and councillors backed it unanimously after being persuaded that issues raised in 37 objections had been adequately addressed. It means that the congregation will be moving from its current Kingdom Hall behind Shambles on Bridge Street, where it has been since the 1950s, but which suffers from access problems, particularly for the likes of wheelchair users. The main concerns raised by residents was related to roads and parking and councillors David Bawn and Richard Wearmouth asked questions of the council officers along these lines. Highways officer Graham Fairs explained that based on the number of seats proposed in the building, the 25 parking spaces to be provided are more than double what would usually be required - a ratio of one space per 10 seats.
  13. Northumberland County Council should bring in more income from council tax next year, after an increase in its base was approved. On Tuesday, the authority's cabinet agreed the council-tax base for 2019-20, which equates to 104,816.7 band D equivalent properties - an increase of 2,148.02 on the current year. Some of this growth is a result of the decision to cut council-tax support for working-age claimants by 8%, meaning all households will have to pay something towards their bills from April. This controversial reduction from 100% to 92% relief was finally approved at last week's full council meeting despite strong opposition, because it is set to save the council £1million a year as it aims to cut £36million from its budget next year. But even if this hadn't gone ahead, Northumberland's council-tax base still would have grown, largely due to the fact that there are 1,237 more homes in the county compared to last year. The non-collection rate has also been reduced - to 0.7% - given the "consistent performance in terms of collection rates over the past few years".
  14. Plans to replace several trees as a new school in Morpeth is being built have been approved - but councillors weren't entirely happy. A first school to replace the ageing Goosehill facility is currently being built on the site of the former fire and rescue workshop in Loansdean, just across the road from Northumberland County Council's HQ at County Hall. An application to vary two of the conditions in order to remove four trees and replace them with another five, and to install an electricity substation on the site went before the authority's Castle Morpeth Local Area Council this month. The relatively minor amendments were unanimously approved, but some of the committee members were disappointed that they were needed in the first place. A report to councillors explained that the removal of the trees is "due to on-site excavations, despite tree protection measures, resulting in trenches being very close to trees, bringing with them a risk of damage to roots and destabilisation. "The application is part retrospective as the trees have been felled already."
  15. A review of the long-term location of a hospital ward, whose temporary move has caused concern in its previous home of Morpeth, will be completed by March, health chiefs have said. The town's Whalton Unit, which delivers specialist rehabilitation for frail older patients, moved to its interim base in Ward 8 at Ashington's Wansbeck General Hospital on Wednesday, December 19. The move, which Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust underlined is temporary at present, was announced two weeks before its relocation and was based on a need to ensure that there was adequate staffing to cope with the expected increase in demand over the winter months. But it has sparked a petition, now signed by more than 800 people, calling for consultation with the public about the removal of the unit from Morpeth, while Ian Lavery MP called on the trust to reconsider its decision. However, executive medical director Dr Jeremy Rushmer explained: "Winter is an extremely busy time for the NHS, with increased numbers of frail older patients requiring admission and subsequent rehabilitation. For these reasons, we must ensure that we have appropriate staffing in place where demand will be highest." When it was announced last month, Northumbria Healthcare said that the relocation would be reviewed in the summer, but at Tuesday's (January 8) meeting of Northumberland County Council's health and wellbeing committee, chief operating officer Helen Ray announced that this review will be completed by March.
  16. A Northumberland planning specialist is gearing up for New Year growth on the back of a series of prominent project wins. Hexham based Hedley Planning Services has seen strong end-of-year trading, having reported a 25% increase in trade over the last 12 months as it targets the £500,000 turnover mark in 2019. The team is currently steering through plans for the £46m redevelopment of the leisure centre, first school and high school in Ponteland, Northumberland, after the Government gave the scheme the green light. This will also see the relocation of Ponteland Fire and Rescue Services to a new site as part of a wider regeneration scheme of the local area, and a planning decision is expected early next year. The practice has also seen considerable progress in the volume of re-planning work undertaken for house builders such as Barratt Homes and Avant Homes, which led to planning approval for the development of almost 2,000 new homes in Morpeth, Durham, Middlesbrough and Spennymoor. Approval has also been granted for plans drawn up by the firm for other residential development across the North East, which will see the construction of more than 450 new properties.
  17. You'd think that big Christmas shop would last for weeks but it's amazing how quickly supplies run low and we are having to top up on food and drink for New Year. For New Year’s Eve, many families tend to hit the shops to buy party food and fizz for the evening's celebrations or even just some household essentials such as milk and bread. Even though big stores tend to be closed for just one day - if any - over New Year, it's nice to know we won't run out of anything - just in case any unexpected (and greedy) guests come to call. So, for those planning to stock up the food and drink cupboards as they plan to welcome in 2019 with families and friends, here's our handy guide to New Year opening times at shopping centres and supermarkets. The following have announced their festive opening hours and they do vary - with just some opening on New Year's Day itself - so here's what you need to know to avoid being caught out. But, remember, when it comes to the major stores it is also worth double-checking before you make the trip as there can be local differences.
  18. Rail passengers in the North East face further disruption in January with weekly strikes planned. Rail, Maritime and Transport Union says members will taking industrial action on New Year's Eve and throughout January, as a dispute over plans to cut guards from trains enters its third year. Arriva Rail North ( Northern ) services are set for disruption on New Year's Eve, as there is a 24-hour strike planned. Further stoppages are planned for every Saturday throughout January. Northern runs services throughout the North East, connecting Newcastle with Carlisle, via Hexham ; Morpeth; Sunderland and to Middlesbrough. Its network also includes the likes of Leeds, Manchester and Manchester Airport. Passengers can expect disrupted timetables, with buses replacing trains on some routes.
  19. A Northumberland motorcyclist was left paralysed from the chest down after a bird hit his helmet causing him to crash. Sam Beecroft was riding his motorbike along the B6524 near Morpeth when the bird hit the right-hand side of his helmet and caused him to collide with a fence. The 21-year-old was rushed to Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) by ambulance where it was revealed he had a T3 spinal cord injury. Sam, of Morpeth, said: "I think I got knocked out. I remember waking up and there was a young girl who worked for Easy Jet. She said, 'Are you alright?' and I said, 'No, a bird hit my face and I cannot feel my legs. "I was about 8mm from breaking my neck, so in that respect I'm quite lucky that I didn't, and I've still got use of my hands and my arms." After the crash in August 2017, Sam spent more than two weeks in the RVI before being transferred to James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough for nearly three months of rehab and physiotherapy.
  20. A doting dad left paralysed by a freak accident abroad on a stag do has returned home for Christmas. Keith Dungait, from Morpeth, had to fight for his life after diving into a swimming pool and hitting his head on the bottom shortly arriving on the Spanish island of Majorca on July 5. The 42-year-old suffered "life-changing" injuries including multiple fractures to his neck, and was flown to Middlesbrough's James Cook University Hospital to continue his rehabilitation. Now, doting dad-of-two Keith is back home with sons Ronnie, 8, and Macaulay, 5, to continue his recovery. Wife Christina said: "It's lush having him home for Christmas. The boys have been so excited. "Mentally for Keith, it's been counting down the days to coming home."
  21. A fifth of patients who attended a Northumberland surgery have not yet registered with a new family doctor, it has been revealed. Collingwood Medical Group, based at Blyth Health Centre, shut its doors on Friday, November 30, following 'significant difficulties with regard to a number of issues, most notably in recruitment'. The contract was not re-tendered. The practice was part of Northumbria Primary Care (NPC), a wholly-owned subsidiary company of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust which was set up in 2015. At the recent meeting of the governing body of NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), it was revealed that around 1,000 of Collingwood's 5,000 patients haven't yet registered elsewhere. However, the governing body's lay chairman, Janet Guy, explained that they had been given assurances that all of the vulnerable patients are now registered with other practices. She said: "The primary care commissioning group has been following this in detail and a lot of work and resources have gone into this. Additional financial resources have gone into the practices which have to accommodate extra patients.
  22. Driving home for Christmas? Millions of people are expected to set off for their holidays on "frantic Friday". Today is the day when many of us begin the festivities and travel to see family and friends. But drivers have been warned to expect gridlock on some of the busiest routes around the country as the rush gets under way. A total of 2.8 million journeys on the UK's roads are expected to be taken on Friday, on top of the usual commuter traffic. The worst times and days to travel on the country's motorways have been compiled by the RAC and travel information service INRIX. And it's not good news if your journey involves the M40.
  23. All households in Northumberland will have to pay a minimum of eight per cent of their council-tax bill, following approval for changes to save £1million a year. The Conservative administration maintains that this leaves those affected far better off than if the previous Labour council had regained power last year, given that proposals had been drawn up to cut the support by over five times as much - 50 per cent, it has been claimed. Labour councillors denied this when the issue sparked a row at the full council meeting last month and there has been some fiery criticism of the proposals, however, the results of a six-week consultation show that of the 512 respondents, 51 per cent agreed with it. At its meeting on Wednesday, Northumberland County Council's cabinet agreed a reduction in the level of council-tax support for working-age claimants to 92 per cent. The current scheme provides up to 100 per cent, meaning that some households pay no council tax. Coun Richard Wearmouth, cabinet member for economic development, said: "I think it is a quite significant achievement to maintain this at 92 per cent. That hasn't been achieved by nine other Labour local authorities in the North East." Coun Nick Oliver, cabinet member for corporate services, added: "We have taken the approach in this budget process, where possible, to protect front-line services and protect support for residents.
  24. Three businessmen have joined forces to launch a new construction company on a mission to build new homes in Northumberland. Founding partners Gary Herron, Michael Black and Peter Smith have pooled their expertise to create Northumberland Homes Ltd, which will get straight into the housing market with its first project in Morpeth. The trio’s fledgling firm will convert the former Register Office in Morpeth into luxury apartments, cottages and dormer bungalows. Much of the property, parts of which were built in 1750 and is one of Morpeth’s oldest buildings, is Grade II listed. The company will maintain much of its original architecture during the renovations. Leading North East property firm Bradley Hall has been appointed to market the properties from its Morpeth operation. Gary Herron, director at Northumberland Homes Ltd, said: “Morpeth has maintained its position as one of the most popular market towns in the North East for many years, and it’s popularity continues to grow.
  25. Plans to change part of a Morpeth bed and breakfast into a takeaway have been branded 'ludicrous' by one of the neighbours who have objected. Applicant Chang Min (Michael) Wang is seeking permission for a change of use in order to convert a portion of the ground floor of Morpeth Lodge Bed and Breakfast, on Staithes Lane, into a takeaway restaurant. But the proposals have sparked concerns over parking, noise, smells and other disturbances, among other issues. Mr Wang also wants to put up a new sign on the front of the building where the customer service area would be, as well as erect a timber lean-to shed for storage in the rear walled courtyard. A design and access statement said: "The proposal makes no change to the footprint size of the existing building and no alteration to the exterior elevation other than the addition of signage." The planned hours of operation are 11am to 11pm Monday to Saturday, and 4pm to 11pm on Sunday.