DURHAM County Council is considering selling its new £50m headquarters - without having ever used it.

Cabinet will be asked at a meeting next week to agree to the controversial sale of the building to Durham University, which is seeking accommodation for use as a business school.

The previous Labour-run administation had planned on moving from its current home at County Hall on Aykley Heads into the newly-built facility at The Sands in Durham city centre.

However, the new cross-party administration is now in talks to sell the new base to Durham University and build a new civic centre at Aykley Heads - along with office accommodation in Stanley.

The Northern Echo: The current Durham County Council HQ at Aykley Heads The current Durham County Council HQ at Aykley Heads

Council chiefs argue that, if agreed, it will "provide a number of economic benefits, with the costs of the construction and the alternative accommodation strategy being more than offset by the proceeds of the sale of the building".

The proposed sale of The Sands building to the university would be subject to planning approval, with a decision by the County Planning Committee expected in July.

In line with previous reports, it is also recommended that should the university not progress with the purchase within a specified time period, the council should occupy the building.

The Northern Echo: County councillor Richard Bell County councillor Richard Bell

Cllr Richard Bell, Cabinet member for finance, said: “The driving factors behind this work are ensuring that we provide good value for money for the authority and that any decisions we make are in the best interests of the county’s residents.

“We believe that the proposal to sell the building at The Sands to Durham University would achieve four aims.

"Coupled with the redevelopment of the DLI Museum and Art Gallery, it would kick-start the wider development of the Aykley Heads strategic employment site.

"It would secure the university’s new business school in the heart of the city, bringing significant economic and commercial benefits – the university is a globally-ranked Russell Group university and is of considerable importance to the county’s economy and we are pleased to be working in partnership with it."

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The review also recommended that a business case be developed to look at alternative options for office accommodation and civic space for the authority.

The business case considered a range of buildings around the county, including a number in private ownership as well as those already within the council’s portfolio.

It was found that no one building could provide suitable or adequate accommodation to meet the requirements for civic space.

Cllr James Rowlandson, Cabinet member for resources, investment and assets, said: “Building a large development at Aykley Heads would significantly reduce the space available for development by other investors.

"However, the proposal for a smaller civic space with office accommodation elsewhere on the site would ensure that opportunities for the future redevelopment of Aykley Heads as a strategic employment site can be maximised.

"We can do this by committing public sector jobs to the site and enhancing facilities available to the private sector through the provision of conference facilities."

Chair of the City of Durham Parish Council Cllr Alan Doig said: “The City of Durham Parish Council was last month briefed that Durham University is the third party interested in acquiring the new HQ building at the Sands for use as its new Business School.

"The Parish Council’s Planning Committee is expecting to consider a Change of Use application in due course for the building and we look forward to looking at the detail of this”.


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