Economy and Infrastructure

06.03.19

Controversial plans for new £50m HQ approved by Durham councillors

Durham County Council has approved plans to for a new £50m headquarters in the city centre despite widespread demonstrations against the “ridiculous” move.

The county council wants to leave its headquarters in Aykley Head and move to a new development at The Sands, transferring 1,000 of its council workers to Durham city centre.

Councillors on the authority’s planning committee narrowly backed the proposals, voting 8-6 in favour of the plan to move.

Campaigners gathered in the city centre and outside the existing County Hall this week ahead of the meeting, and have sent hundreds of letters to the council claiming the move would harm business and cause traffic problems.

The campaigners have argued that there is no desire amongst local residents to have the HQ in the city centre. Janet George, one of the lead campaigners, said it was a county-wide concern – and that the new site was the “most unsuitable location possible.”

The newly-approved plans will see the car parks at The Sands and Durham Sixth Form transformed into a five-storey building, whilst the Aykley Heads site will become a strategic employment site.

Durham County Council said the move will reduce its costs and provide a boost to the local economy by allowing its staff to provide additional business for retailers and eateries.

In January, solicitors acting on behalf of the City of Durham Parish Council wrote to the county council challenging the proposals, arguing that the plans were “unlawful.”

It argued that the HQ move did not meet European and national regulations and fails to consider traffic and air quality impacts. The authority claimed, based on the information provided, that it does not consider the application “policy compliant.”

In February, opposition councillors launched a motion to stall the planning process and start a new public consultation on the plans, but the motion was denied.

The Aykley Heads site opened in 1963, but a council report in 2015 concluded it was an “over-sized inefficient building” and the authority said it will become a business park, creating up to 6,000 jobs.

Labour councillor John Clare, who voted in favour of the plans, told the meeting: “I’ve heard people say this is the right move but the wrong place. We’re not here to say this would be better in a different place, we’re here to say here is an application, does it fly or does it not?”

“If Durham County Council is to continue to deliver services which are up to the moment we have to get into a new building.”

Chair of the council, Elizabeth Scott, criticised the plans, and said: “It’s clear from the 1,005 letters of objection and from the public demonstrations that these proposals to move county hall to The Sands is unpopular, not just in Durham City but throughout the county.

“There are only eight letters in support. Such a disparity should ring alarm bells.

“It’s not right for residents, it’s not right for business and it’s not right for the county council.”

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