Courant to be available in leisure centres again

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VISITORS to Tynedale leisure centres will once again be able to buy a copy of their local newspaper – the Hexham Courant – from this week, following a county council U-turn.

Last week, chief executive of Northumberland County Council, Steven Mason, was forced to back down on his controversial decision to withdraw public notices from the Hexham Courant.

Since December, the notices, relating to planning decisions and road closures, have been placed in the Alnwick-based Northumberland Gazette which does not register as circulating in Tynedale.

Copies of the Courant were also removed from council-run leisure centres and replaced with free copies of the Gazette, which usually costs £1.25. The council has yet to reveal how much this move cost the taxpayer.

But following gains in the election, Northumberland Conservatives stuck to their commitment to reinstate public notices in the Courant, with the first set appearing in this week’s edition.

And copies of the Courant were due to go back on sale in the leisure centres this week.

A county council spokesman confirmed that free copies of the Gazette would no longer be distributed.

“In view of last week’s decision we are now in dialogue with the Northumberland Gazette to bring these arrangements to an end,” he said.

The move comes after the strength of feeling shown towards the Courant’s Your Right to Know campaign, which included a petition to reverse Mr Mason’s decision, gathering over 2,700 signatures. It has been suggested Mr Mason withdrew the notices to punish the Courant over its coverage of objections to new charges introduced at leisure centres.

County councillor for Hexham West, Coun. Derek Kennedy, supported the campaign by lodging a Freedom of Information request, which revealed a 50-word email delivering the instruction from Mr Mason to heads of departments across the council. An equally brief email trail relating to the decision, amounting to just 10 messages, made no reference to any opinion sought on the legality of the move.

“I am absolutely delighted to hear that the Courant will be back in sports centres,” Coun. Kennedy said.

“I am a regular attender at the Wentworth sports centre and a lot of people who go there have been speaking to me about it. People read it when the kids go swimming or it’s a good point just to sit down and spend some time reading the paper.

“The whole episode has been really unsavoury and we are at last back to a real position of serving the Tynedale public.”

Coun. Gordon Stewart, the new conservative councillor for Prudhoe South, said: “I had been informed of the decision by the leader of the council and I have been discussing it on doorsteps with people over the past few days, and people are delighted the Courant will be back on sale.

“It was totally illogical to remove the it from their own buildings. People feel it is their local newspaper and they are glad to have it back.”

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