A PROPOSED major shake-up to controversial plans for a new council headquarters has moved closer to reality.

New proposals could see an “interested third party” take on Durham County Council’s new HQ at The Sands.

The previous Labour administration decided to move out of the authority’s current home at County Hall, Aykley Heads to a purpose-built £49m site at The Sands.

Now the new cross-party administration is reviewing that decision - described by one cabinet member as “the people’s review”.

County Hall is earmarked for demolition, and under the latest possible plan, another smaller HQ could be built.

This could be just yards away from the current HQ as it was deemed “feasible” to build at Aykley Heads again and fit with a business park “masterplan” there.

Cllr Richard Bell, deputy council leader and cabinet member for finance, told a special cabinet meeting there were only two options.

First, to move into the nearly-finished Sands building as previously planned, or to reach a deal with a third party to occupy that building.

He said the existing County Hall “needs to go” to make way for a business park “masterplan” at Aykley Heads.

The new leadership, which took control in May, has approved recommendations to develop a business case considering alternative options for the council’s office and committee space.

The business case, considering the options’ risks, impacts and opportunities, will be delivered by summer 2022.

Meanwhile negotiations will continue with the third party about The Sands.

Cllr Bell said: “Clearly lots of the financial considerations that underpin this review and the name of the interested third party – whose interest I understand is serious and real – are confidential and will remain as such.

“The business case that will now be prepared must satisfy the relevant value for money and public interest tests.”

The review said using the Sands building as a hotel or office lets, or renovating the existing County Hall, would not be viable, value for money or in the public interest.

If the third party negotiations do not reach a satisfactory outcome in time, the council will take over the Sands building.

Questions were raised about costs, risks and health and safety concerns, and the review had been criticised by Labour. Cllr Kevin Shaw had branded it “a pointless waste of taxpayers’ money”.

Cllr Eddy Adam said building a third HQ at Aykley Heads rather than using a “complete, purpose-built HQ” at The Sands was a “ridiculous” and risky idea.

Before the cabinet agreed the recommendations, Cllr Mark Wilkes said: “We have a moral, financial and political obligation to review this and the other decisions of the previous administration.

“Labour lost control of this county for the first time in 100 years precisely because of decisions like the Sands HQ.

“This is the people’s review and I fully support it.”