Politicians have clashed again in a row over Durham County Council's HQ as Labour accused the joint administration of jeopardising a £13m investment.

The Labour opposition says the county stands to lose millions because of the leading coalition's "dithering and political posturing".

The joint administration's deputy leader replied the plan would still make gains for the council even if grants were lost.

Labour said the administration was "tearing up" their plan to build a new council HQ at The Sands, "catastrophically affecting" jobs and investment.

The building is now finished, but the coalition recently decided not to move there, and sell it the Durham University for its business school instead.

Now the council plans to move to three alternative locations - two new buildings at Aykley Heads and a refurbished listed building on Stanley Front Street.

Read more: Why Durham Council's new HQ will be split across three sites

Labour leaders say the change will mean County Durham losing a £6m grant from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP).

They say this was awarded to help a £13m investment programme and invest in an Aykley Heads plot - but the plot will now be used for one of the council HQ sites.

So Labour asserts the investment has been "undermined" by the coalition's decision.

They say if NELEP withdraws its grant, it will also claw back more than £3.5m already paid to the council and send the money elsewhere.

Labour claimed NELEP had informed the council of its intentions and would publish a formal decision.

NELEP told the Local Democracy Reporting Service no decisions had been made yet.

Read more: Council leaders agree to sell new HQ to Durham University

Councillor Carl Marshall, County Durham Labour leader, said: “Catastrophic indecision, constant dithering and political posturing of this chaotic coalition is dragging Durham back to the dark ages.

“Nobody in this so-called coalition has a clue what they are doing – they don’t care that their nonsensical politically-motivated decisions have such damaging repercussions for everyone in Durham.

"It’s one thing to oppose the new HQ at The Sands when in opposition, but it’s quite another to destroy an economic development plan set to deliver a once-in-a-lifetime development opportunity for County Durham."

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

He said NELEP backed Labour's plans to the tune of £13m because it would put 800 people in the city, create prime development land for businesses and raise employment prospects and prosperity.

“However, the coalition’s decision to tear up this plan and embark on a flight of fantasy for a third HQ won’t deliver anywhere near the economic boost or private sector development opportunity, so who can blame it for pulling this investment," Cllr Marshall added.

He said Labour had seen a leaked report from NELEP: “This report must be scrutinised and this coalition must come clean to the people of County Durham.

"Let everyone have a look at this report and see how much money this is costing taxpayers and how much Durham is set to miss out on.

“Losing this NELEP funding confirms Labour’s fears that private sector investment and jobs will be catastrophically affected by this coalition’s decision to scrap plans to move to The Sands and free up development space at Aykley Heads.”

Read more: Green group leader 'appalled' as Durham homes plan is passed

A spokesperson from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership said: "Following Durham County Council’s decision regarding the Aykley Heads building, we are working with council and government officials on next steps and no decisions have been made.”

Cllr Richard Bell, deputy council leader and cabinet member for finance, responded: “The business case that we reviewed and agreed on at cabinet on April 27 was compelling, and assumed that we would lose all of these LEP grants.

"While we are working to retain any grants, if we cannot, then this new office accommodation strategy will still deliver a significant net financial gain to the county council.

"It represents a decisive, progressive and positive outcome that will kickstart investment and regeneration, and boost employment at Aykley Heads and across the county, and it follows a thorough review of decisions made by the previous administration.

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

"We cannot comment on leaked confidential information.

“All of this was known at the time the decision was made by cabinet.

"Cllr Marshall either doesn't read or doesn't understand the papers, or is deliberately choosing to misrepresent them.

"If he was so concerned, perhaps he should have not only attended, but asked questions at cabinet instead of sitting in his office.”


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