A COUNCIL has defended spending more than £16,500 on two signs advertising a proposed business park.

Durham County Council put up the signs on land it owns at Aykley Heads, in Durham, last year, advertising its proposed business park on the site.

But the authority has now been accused of wasting money after it emerged it spent £16,583 on the billboards.

Liberal Democrat councillor Mark Wilkes said: “Spending over £16,500 of taxpayers money on a couple of signs is a bit of an insult to council taxpayers.

“It’s also a kick in the teeth to those departments having to find savings to protect frontline services."

The Northern Echo:

An artists' impression of the proposed business park at Aykley Heads, Durham

The council has defended the spending, saying it will help maximise the opportunity of the site, which it hopes will create up to 6,000 jobs.

Ian Thompson, corporate director of regeneration and local services at Durham County Council, said: “The redevelopment of Aykley Heads into a business park offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to create up to 6,000 high quality jobs and to boost the county’s economy by £400m.

“Plans were approved by cabinet in 2018 and by investing in these signs, we hope to raise further awareness of the vision and maximise the opportunity for businesses to express an interest.

“Sites of this calibre are rarely available and independent analysis has identified the city does not currently offer sufficient office space for business growth.”

In September, the authority approved a budget of £585,000 to cover the cost of bringing in expertise needed to deliver the scheme, including £50,000 for marketing the project.

The Northern Echo:

Plans have been made to demolish County Hall, in Aykley Heads, Durham

As part of the scheme, the council plans to demolish its current headquarters at Aykley Heads and build a new civic building on the car park at The Sands, in the city centre.

A planning application for the new building has been submitted and is awaiting a decision.

Cllr Richard Ormerod said: “To put up these huge boards suggests an arrogance which local residents will find simply unacceptable.

“If The Sands plan fails, and I hope it does fail, the council will have to revisit the possibility of building a new HQ at Aykley Heads. Will it then waste more money changing these hoardings?”