PLANNERS have recommended controversial proposals to relocate a North-East authority’s headquarters should be approved.

The planning team at Durham County Council says the proposals to build a five-storey civic building on The Sands car park, in Durham city, should go ahead.

The council’s plans have been met with widespread criticism from local residents, sparking more than 950 objections from members of the public, residents’ groups and other local groups.

But planners have now outlined why they think the proposal should go ahead, saying that despite some detrimental effects, the scheme will benefit the city centre, by increasing footfall and expenditure and potentially reducing overall traffic and pollution levels.

Protestors are planning a final attempt to gather support by holding a demonstration in the city on Saturday.

The Northern Echo:

How the proposed civic building would look

The application has been submitted by Kier Property Developments, which has been awarded a contract for the project, which it described as a “state of the art piece of civic architecture”.

Kier says: “This planning application is founded upon the principles of driving inward investment and jobs, whilst returning the council to the civic heart of the city and facilitating a sustainable future for council service provision.

“The development of a modern and sustainable new headquarters, will bring significant benefits to the city of Durham.”

If approved, the building, which is about a third smaller than the existing County Hall, in Aykley Heads, will provide a work place for 1,000 council employees.

The council wants to move so it can demolish County Hall to free up space for a business park as well as provide a modern and efficient working environment.

Objections have been summarised in a report to be considered by councillors, summed up in about 170 bullet points tackling issues ranging from impacts on air quality, pollution, the city’s heritage, tourism, highways and the accessiblity of the new building.

Concerns about traffic, limited vehicular access to the site and increased air pollution, particularly at the junction between Providence Row and Claypath were dismissed by planners.

A Highways Authority traffic assessment found the scheme could result in the overall reduction of traffic at some junctions as a result of relocating workers from Aykley Heads and reducing the amount of parking available, which they say will encourage people to use other transport.

The Northern Echo:

The Sands car park, which is the proposed site for the new civic building

The City of Durham Parish Council engaged transport consultant Vectos Transport Planning to do a separate traffic assessment, who have raised concerns about the methodology used to predict trips generated by the development.

Planners said there would be some harm to the World Heritage Site, but it would be countered by an overall positive contribution in design terms to the area.

Councillors will discuss the plans next Tuesday, but cannot approve it outright, as the decision may be referred to the secretary of state following a request from Durham’s parish council.

Protestors plan to meet in Durham’s Market Place at 11am on Saturday.