COUNCILLORS have approved controversial plans for a £50m new HQ in the centre of Durham City.

Protestors against the plans to move Durham County Council's headquarters gathered ahead of the meeting to show their opposition by staging a demonstration outside the existing County Hall in Aykley Heads. 

More than 1,000 residents had sent objections to the authority but councillors voted narrowly in favour of the plans by an 8-6 margin. 

Objection to the scheme, which is set to see a new office built on the Sands car park, had focused on traffic and air pollution, the flood risk and the impact on on tourism and traders in the city centre.

The Northern Echo:

The plans for the five-storey civic building

There were also calls for the council to seek a new site for the project, such as at Aykley Heads, from those who said they accepted the need to replace the ageing County Hall.

Cllr John Clare, who backed the plans, said: “I’ve heard people say this is the right move but the wrong place. We’re not here to say this would be better in a different place, we’re here to say here is an application, does it fly or does it not?”

He added: “If Durham County Council is to continue to deliver services which are up to the moment we have to get into a new building.”

The Northern Echo:

Protests at County Hall

Cllr Audrey Laing, who moved the motion to approve the plans, said: "I understand there's significant opposition in the local area but I think it's a positive one for county as a whole."

Speaking in opposition to the plans, Cllr Elizabeth Scott, chair of the City of Durham Parish Council, said: “It’s clear from the 1,005 letters of objection and from the public demonstrations that these proposals to move county hall to The Sands is unpopular, not just in Durham City but throughout the county. 

"There are only eight letter in support. Such a disparity should ring alarm bells.
“It’s not right for residents, it’s not right for business and it’s not right for the county council.”

Councillors heard other objections from market trader Poppy Solari, who runs a vintage fashion stall at the outdoor market, Sands resident Kathryn Banks, Patrick Conway from the City of Durham Freemen, Brian Pickering, from Durham Access for All and Douglas Pocock, from the City of Durham Trust.

The council's Lorraine O'Donnell said: "This planning application addresses the council's number one priority of economic regeneration and job creation and will return the council to the heart of the city."

"It would enable us to build a headquarters that's cheaper to run. By 2021 we will have made £250m of reductions and reduced our head county by 3,000.

"County Hall is too big, it's outdated and there is a maintenance backlog of £37m."

The decision will now be looked at by the secretary of state, who will decide whether to "call it in", after a request by the parish council.