The debate over council headquarters has resurfaced with councillors disagreeing over whether a new plan is a "huge" benefit or a "bad deal" for the taxpayer.

Durham County Council's current HQ at Aykley Heads is to be demolished, and a new one built by the previous Labour administration at The Sands is now complete.

But the current Conservative, Lib Dem and Independent joint administration has reconsidered the plans and decided to sell the new £50m building to Durham University.

Now, the council will move into new buildings at Aykley Heads and a one to be refurbished in Stanley.

Councillor Carl Marshall argued the plans would have a harmful effect and "clog up" a prime jobs site.

He suggested the council rethink the move at a council corporate management board meeting.

The Labour group leader said of The Sands: "For me, regardless of whether somebody wants to flog that building off, I think that's a bad deal for the taxpayer.

"I think whatever you get for it, it's going to result in a huge bill being paid to Government in tax, money paid back in grants that should have been creating private sector jobs in Durham.

"In my view we should just move into it and it'll save the taxpayer money."

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He said his "massive concern" was the move to plots at Aykley Heads, arguing this development was in top demand and could become one of the country's greenest, most accessible and sustainable business parks making over £15m per month.

He said: "I think we're going to lose that opportunity because businesses told us then and businesses are telling me now, they do not want to be next door to public service facillities and council staff.

"Up to 1,000 jobs could have gone on to those two plots.

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

"This is one of the biggest bits in the jigsaw with dealing with the cost of living crisis.

"I think there's an opportunity here for the cabinet and the council to look at alternative sites other than Aykley Heads that allow rocket boosters to be stuck on the Aykley Heads masterplan so we can drive that economic growth we need and not clog this site up with public sector jobs."

Susan Robinson, head of corporate property and land, said costs and risks had been considered in detail, the importance of the site was recognised and a conference facility in the plans was very attractive to the market.

Conservative councillors disgreed with Cllr Marshall, describing The Sands as one of the most expensive parts of real estate in the city.

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Cllr Patricia Jopling said: "I was very uncomfortable about going down into that building, us having very posh offices and talking about deprivation.

"And when you look at the situation now with hybrid working, did we need it anyway?

"I do think we've done the right thing, and I don't think that it will be a money loser.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Patricia Jopling. Picture: Durham County Council.Cllr Patricia Jopling. Picture: Durham County Council.

"I think the use it's being put to is going to benefit Durham hugely. I cannot see what the fuss is about."

Cllr Andrew Jackson said: "We're here to provide a service. We're not here to congratulate ourselves and have a wonderful veranda and a drinks gallery sitting on the top, right next to the river having the best views. That's just simply not acceptable."


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