COUNTY Durham must push on with plans to regenerate itself - despite uncertainty caused by Brexit, a council leader has said.

Durham County Council leader Simon Henig made the comments as the authority approved a proposal to start working on a full business plan to move its headquarters from Aykley Heads, in Durham City, and investing in the site with the hope of creating up to 6,000 jobs.

The council wants to move from County Hall to a smaller, city centre location, allowing the building to be demolished and replaced with office space for private sector businesses.

Following a year of work investigating the proposal, the council’s cabinet agreed to start preparing a full business plan.

Opposition councillor Amanda Hopgood, from the Liberal Democrats, asked what was in place to mitigate for changes caused by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

Neil Foster, cabinet member for regeneration, said: “We can’t turn the opportunity afforded by Aykley Heads into reality overnight. A great deal of work will be put in over the next year to take this forward.

“The opportunity afforded by this site is fabulous. This is certainly the best business site in the region, in the county and I say in Europe.”

Council leader Simon Henig said: “It would be a big mistake to be freezing investment and miss opportunities in a place like Aykley Heads in the North East because of uncertainty around what will happen in terms of the EU. We need to push on in terms of this region, this county and this city.”

Following initial work on the scheme, a council report says there is likely to be “high demand” for office space in Aykley Heads, which is already home to around 30 businesses, including Atom Bank – the UK's first digital-only bank.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Hopgood said: “I do think they are being optimistic about 6,000 new jobs. I have no problem with aspiration but it has to be realistic.”

She added she had concerns about concentrating too much investment in one area and about the impact on the road network around County Hall.

Independent councillor John Shuttleworth said: “It’s pie in the sky – I just don’t think we should do this at this time. In terms of austerity it’s the wrong thing at the wrong time.”

A full business plan with more details about the financial implications of the move is expected to be completed by September 2017, when the council will decide whether to go ahead with the move.