AN HISTORIC former university headquarters could be converted into one of the region’s leading luxury hotels under multi-million pound plans revealed today (Thursday, July 3).

Businessman Shaun Crawley has bought Old Shire Hall, previously Durham University’s HQ, with a view to creating a 70-room boutique hotel to rival the best in the area.

He hopes the Grade II-listed Victoria treasure will be transformed with spa facilities, a fine restaurant, bars, 40 hotel rooms, a 30-room apart-hotel and plush functions rooms, creating a country house atmosphere at the heart of Durham City.

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But Mr Crawley needs support to make the vision a reality and wants to hear from interested hotel operators and restaurateurs.

He would consider selling the building as it stands with planning permission, refurbishing it and selling it as ready to open or teaming up with a restaurateur to run the destination together.

“It’s a boutique hotel operator’s dream,” he said.

“It’s a country house in the middle of the city, offering the experience of a spa luxury break without having to go out into the country.”

Old Shire Hall was built in 1896 as the headquarters for Durham County Council, and extended in 1905.

The design was ahead of its time, with grand Art Deco-style staircases and corridors.

It has been empty since Durham University moved its HQ to the purpose-built Palatine Centre two years ago but it remains in a good condition, with the former council chamber very well preserved.

The University sold the Old Elvet building to the now-defunct regional development agency One North East in 2008 for £4.2m.

When the agency was wound up, ownership passed to the Homes and Communities Agency, which sold it to Mr Crawley in February.

Upmarket hotel chain Malmaison and Hotel du Vin has been repeatedly credited with an interest in the building, but Mr Crawley, who lives just a few yards away, said he had not been contacted since buying the building.

There had been, however, interest from elsewhere, he said, and he has held discussions with one potential buyer and one potential operator.

Mr Crawley has held extensive discussions with Durham County Council and hopes to submit a planning application for Old Shire Hall’s conversion later this month.