An MP has written an open letter to a council leader questioning the decision to sell a new £50m HQ to Durham University.

Kevan Jones has called for answers on the costs of the proposed sale, which will be discussed by Durham County Council's cabinet on Wednesday (April 27).

He wrote in a letter posted on social media: "I understand that this week the cabinet will be considering the sale of Durham County Council's new HQ building at The Sands in Durham.

"I am concerned about the impact that this decision could have on the council's finances.

"I accept this decision is a political one.

"However I do not think that in the interests of value for money for the taxpayers of County Durham, this decision can be taken without some explanation on the financial cost to the council."

The council's joint administration is proposing to sell its new purpose-built HQ building at The Sands, without ever having used it.

Read more: Durham County Council could end up selling £50m HQ to Durham University

Council leaders will be asked this week to agree to the controversial sale to "special purchaser" Durham University to develop its business school.

The previous Labour-run administation had planned on moving from the council's current home at County Hall on Aykley Heads into the facility at The Sands in the city centre.

The new cross-party administration since reviewed that decision. It says the plans will protect more than 600 university jobs and create another 160, keeping the business school in the city.

A planning application to change the Sands building's use is expected to be decided in July.

Read more: Proposals could see 'third party' move into new Durham County Council HQ

It is now proposed for the council to move to three other buildings by:

  • Constructing another new "modest-sized civic building" which will double up as a conference centre for businesses;
  • Occupying council-owned offices already under construction at Aykley Heads, the same area as the current building which is earmarked for demolition;
  • Refurbishing and using a large, run-down Grade II listed building on Front Street, Stanley.

The joint administration says the proposals will create thousands of new jobs in a strategy to kick-start the Aykley Heads business park, regenerate Stanley Front Street, and fund jobs projects with Sands sale profits.

Labour group leader Councillor Carl Marshall has slammed the proposals, saying: “It’s a complete waste of everyone’s time and money.

"They have an HQ that is already built. It is there. Everyone can see it. The thought of building a third or even fourth HQ is absolutely farcical."

Read more: Labour condemns plans to sell new Durham County Council HQ

Now Kevan Jones, the Labour MP for North Durham, said in his letter: "I am led to believe that the council were aiming to sell the building to Durham University for approximately £70m.

"If this is the case, this would result in a potential cost to the council of £14m in VAT to the Government."

He asked council leader Cllr Amanda Hopgood to confirm this, or any "dispensation" to avoid the bill.

He also queried a £6m grant contribution to the Aykley Heads development, and asked whether the council would have to repay this to the Government.

He referred to councillors' opposition to the Sands building on the grounds of it being built on a floodplain, asking how the sale would address this, whether there was any "indemnity" and at what cost.

He asked about the costs of building a new County Hall, considering the "substantial increase in the costs of construction over the past few years", costs related to the sale including "any consultants and officer time", and running costs while securing a new HQ.

He added: "I... find it perplexing that, at a time when the Government speaks about 'levelling up', and the council is bidding for additional funds from central government, a decision should be taken which, in effect, passes approximately £20m back to central government."

The joint administration has been contacted for comment.

Cllr Hopgood said earlier today: “We are ambitious about bringing jobs to the whole of County Durham.

"Residents were quite rightly appalled at the decision of the previous Labour administration to build the Sands building.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Amanda Hopgood. Picture: Northern Echo.Cllr Amanda Hopgood. Picture: Northern Echo.

"Our plan will generate a surplus and cut the cost of running the council, protect and create employment, kick-start regeneration, and ensure that across the county we get the jobs boost we need."

Deputy leader Cllr Richard Bell added: “If we are to truly level up our county, we must ensure that both large and small businesses have the facilities they need to grow.

“There was a risk that we would be left with an empty building at Aykley Heads. Our strategy ensures that we don’t end up paying bills for vacant buildings.

"It also gives us the opportunity to invest for the future of our entire county.”