THE mammoth task of trying to clear a 1960s building occupying a six acre site is more than half done - after almost eleven months of work.

Up to 60 people are working daily on the site of the half-demolished Milburngate House in Durham, which being turned modern commercial and retail space on the banks of the River Wear.

Work to clear the asbestos-riddled 1960s building is currently behind schedule but Allan Cook, managing director of Arlington Real Estate, says the clearance is set to finish on time - by the end of March - ready for the first phase of construction ready to start next spring.

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The company is part of a consortium, with Carillion and Richardsons Capital LLP, behind the £150m development of the huge six acre site, which when complete will include housing, office space, restaurants and bars and a cinema.

Mr Cook said: "We’re behind time slightly because there was more asbestos in the building than anticipated.

"It’s not so much a demolition as a deconstruction. We can't just take a wrecking ball to it."

The scheme is due to be delivered in three phases, and will not be fully complete for around three to five years.

The first phase will include three or four new restaurants, a Pitcher and Piano bar, an Everyman Cinema and a 90-bed hotel, due to be announced shortly.

Mr Cook said: "What we're putting in here are places we hope people will go for a night out. At the minute everyone jumps on a train to go to Newcastle but I can see us getting some traffic back the other way.

"The idea is that it will link the city to the train station," he added. "There will be a series of public spaces all the way down from the railway station to the river.

"People think about Milburngate House as a building but we think about it as part of the city."

He added: "This will be a bit of a game changer for the city. I remember coming down here six or seven years ago when we were first starting to look at it and there was the beautiful part of the city and then there was this part of the city.

"When this is developed there’s going to be nice architecture all the way along from the Radisson.

"It's transformed the riverside. There are four cranes within 500m of each other – there's so much going on and that's not happening in anywhere else in the North apart from Manchester. It's quite extraordinary."

In November the cleared area will be put to a different use, when the diggers will be replaced a swirling "tornado" of flames as part of this year's Lumiere festival.