THE future of Durham County Council's headquarters - or where it will be situated - has been a issue of debate in the city for years.

Now the matter has been decided, again, by council leaders, though disagreement between Labour and the current coalition continues.

The council is currently run from County Hall at Aykley Heads.

But all seem to agree the ageing building will not be the council's HQ in the future, and it is earmarked for demolition.

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Neither will the new £50m building which has recently been completed at The Sands in the city centre.

The previous Labour administration had planned this to be the new HQ, and it was built for this purpose.

But the new joint administration of Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Independents reviewed that decision since it came to power last year.

The council never got to move into the Sands building, and now it appears it never will.

Instead, it has been decided to sell the new building to Durham University, to develop its business school.

So if the council will not occupy either of these two buildings, where will it go?

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The administration now plans a three-pronged approach to:

  • Construct another new "modest-sized civic building" and conference centre for businesses at Aykley Heads;
  • Occupy other council-owned offices already being built at Aykley Heads;
  • Refurbish and reuse the former customer access point on Front Street, Stanley, a large, run-down Grade II listed building which the council has been unable to sell.

The joint administration says the proposals will save money, safeguard and create up to 780 jobs, spark investment, income and regeneration, and fund levelling up projects with the profits of the sale.

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Council leader Cllr Amanda Hopgood said the proposals offered "a fully costed, value-for-money alternative" after residents were "quite rightly appalled" at the Sands plan.

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

Cllr Richard Bell, deputy council leader and cabinet member for finance, said at the last cabinet meeting: "The case is compelling. This is a good deal on anybody's money and is further proof of cabinet's bold and ambitious vision for the future of our county.

"I am convinced the alternative strategy will result in accommodation staff will be proud of.

"The council will be significantly better off than if we move into The Sands."

The Northern Echo: Cllr Richard Bell. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.Cllr Richard Bell. Picture: Sarah Caldecott.

He said it would kick-start the Aykley Heads employment site, along with a redeveloped DLI museum, art gallery and exhibition centre.

Cllr Mark Wilkes, cabinet member for neighbourhoods and climate change, said the Sands building was "completely inappropriate" in its size and location.

He said of the new scheme: "This is an exemplary plan. Residents made it very clear to us they didn't want the Sands building.

"Post-Covid, we don't need as big a building. Post-Covid, we need a building that's far more flexible."

Not everyone agreed. Labour MP Kevan Jones wrote an open letter expressing concerns about the financial cost of the new plans "in the interests of value for money for the taxpayers of County Durham".

The Northern Echo: Cllr Carl Marshall. Picture: Northern Echo.Cllr Carl Marshall. Picture: Northern Echo.

Durham's Labour group leader Cllr Carl Marshall said the plans would "rip up Labour's ambitions" and branded them "an obscene waste of time, money, effort and... a mistake that will be felt for generations".

He said: "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."

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

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