WORK can begin on a new £14m police headquarters, after a deal was reached over the welfare of protected newts spotted nearby.

Durham Police’s long-awaited new HQ, at Aykley Heads, Durham City, was delayed by several months after great crested newts, one of the most heavily protected creatures in the UK, were found hundreds of yards off site.

Natural England, the guardian of the country’s natural environment, was initially unconvinced by police analysis of the colony and refused a great crested newt development licence.

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However, today (Thursday, February 14) a spokesman said a licence had now been issued.

He said: “It’s good news for the police, who will get a new headquarters development, and it’s good news for the newts in the long-term too.”

The delay is believed to have cost the force about £250,000.

But, responding to Natural England’s decision, Chief Constable Mike Barton said: “I’m delighted because it means taxpayers’ money is being well spent.

“We’ll no longer be heating and lighting a huge building from the 1960s that’s no longer fit for purpose.

“We would always protect the environment. We believe the new headquarters will be sympathetic to this. We recognise it’s a very important part of the cityscape.”

Police say their current HQ, also in Aykley Heads, is costly to maintain, needs many repairs and is no longer fit for purpose; and its successor will be £2,000-a-day cheaper to run.

Planning permission was granted last June. However, no work was allowed after great crested newts were found off site, near the East Coast railway line.

It is believed the colony numbers between two and ten newts.

The police’s first bid for a great crested newt development licence, submitted in September, was declined after Natural England ruled it was not robust enough.

Officers filed a second application in mid-December, which was agreed today.

A special newt fence will be erected to stop the amphibians moving onto the building site. Temporary Amphibian Fencing consists of low-level plastic sheeting, buried into the ground and supported by posts. No figures on its cost have been released.

An alternative grassland habitat, including log pile “newt houses”, will be created for the newts and they will be moved there once they come out of hibernation in the spring.