PLANNING permission has been granted for an office block that will secure the future of hundreds of public sector jobs in a North-East town, despite heritage concerns.

The four-storey building, adjacent to Darlington town hall, will be a base for 400 Department for Education (DfE) staff, whose jobs are being moved from the run-down Mowden Hall premises.

English Heritage is keen that the site's heritage be protected, members of Darlington Borough Council’s planning committee heard on Wednesday (September 25).

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Most recently used as a car park, the site was once the location of a Bishop’s palace or manor house, as well as a workhouse in later years.

Council planning officer Roy Merritt told members that English Heritage was satisfied that any risk to the archaeological significance of the site could be mitigated against.

Preliminary work to assess the relics buried under the site has already taken place and English Heritage believes relics from the site could be of national importance.

A condition of planning permission being granted is that further excavation of the site is carried out and any historic finds recorded and preserved for future generations.

Plans for the office block next to the town hall were born out of a campaign to keep the DfE jobs in Darlington, after it was revealed last year that they were at risk of being transferred elsewhere in the region.

Several months of uncertainty for DfE workers came to an end in April, when it was revealed the jobs would stay in Darlington.

The Northern Echo understands a contract between DfE and the council is still to be completed and should be signed in the coming weeks, with the town hall car park already closed to drivers.

Members of the planning committee voted unanimously and without debate in favour of granting planning permission.

In a letter to the council, dated September 19, English Heritage’s principal inspector of historic buildings and areas, Catherine Dewar, wrote: “We recommend that, in light of the investigations to date, further options for mitigating the impact of the development on the significant archaeological remains are identified and assessed.

“We acknowledge the desire to provide the additional office space, however other options should be considered before causing substantial harm to these significant remains of Darlington’s links with the medieval Bishops of Durham.”