THE second phase of a £27m city centre regeneration project has been given the go ahead, with work set to start next month.

The developers of Freeman’s Reach, which will retain more than 1,000 jobs in Durham City, have sealed a deal to re-house Her Majesty’s Passport Office from Milburngate House to the opposite bank of the River Wear.

Having selected the former ice rink site as the preferred location for its Durham City operation, the granting of planning permission means that everything is now in place to enable the developers to begin construction of the new building in the next few weeks.

Loading article content

Securing HM Passport Office as the occupier for Phase 2 means that the entire development will now be completed and occupied by 2016.

Construction will run alongside that of Phase 1 for National Savings and Investments (NS&I), which is scheduled to be completed early next year.

This deal shows the significant progress that has been made since the former ice rink site was acquired by the Homes & Communities Agency (HCA), as a strategic site for regeneration.

In 2012, the HCA and Durham County Council entered into a development agreement with a consortium led by Carillion Developments, Arlington Real Estate and Richardsons Capital LLP.

In addition to securing 950 Passport Office jobs the scheme has already kept 400 NS&I staff in the city centre.

The development will include cafés and restaurants as well as a new tree lined riverside walk.

In addition, the adjacent Bishop's Mill, a medieval water mill, is being replaced by a turbine powered by an Archimedes Screw hydroelectric power system, designed to provide about three quarters of the scheme’s energy requirement.

Ian Forster, the director of operational services at Her Majesty's Passport Office said: “We are pleased to be part of this riverside transformation and are confident that Freeman's Reach will provide an excellent base to provide a high quality public service to our customers and a modern and flexible workspace for our staff.

“This confirms our commitment to our people and the local economy in Durham where we will continue to work with staff and suppliers to deliver a trusted and secure service which represents good value for our customers.”

Allan Cook, the managing director of Arlington Real Estate, said: “The Freeman’s Reach development is already proving to be a catalyst for the positive transformation of Durham’s Riverside and represents a major step forward in reshaping this part of the city. I am confident that this is just the start of a chain reaction of activity throughout the Northern Quarter which will see this area transformed into a place more in keeping with the calibre of a city like Durham.”

Jeff Pearey, Head of JLL’s North East business that acted for the developer, said: “This is a major coup for the city of Durham and the lettings to both NS&I and HMPO secures the long term future for this key site.”