Plans to change a new building from a council HQ to a home for Durham University's business school have been given planning permission.

The Waterside building at The Sands was built by Durham County Council's previous Labour administration as a new council HQ to replace County Hall, which is to be demolished.

The current Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Independent joint administration scrapped the plans to move the HQ there, and instead decided to move council staff to new buildings at Aykley Heads and a refurbished building in Stanley.

The Waterside building at The Sands is now to be sold to Durham University Business School (DUBS).

The plan to change that building, on a 1.4-hectare site off Freemans Place, from council office headquarters to higher education - housing up to 2,300 students and staff - went to the council's planning committee on Tuesday (July 5).

Read more: Durham Sands HQ LIVE - Updates as big decision to be made

Professor Claire O'Malley, the university's pro-vice chancellor (global), said DUBS was world-ranked, in the top 50 business schools in Europe and worth £83m a year to County Durham, supporting about 600 jobs.

The move was said to be worth nearly £30m a year to County Durham by 2032.

She said: "We're looking to relocate the business school to the Sands area to provide an attractive work and study environment for our academics and students, and importantly to attract leading business partners.

"Durham University Business School needs a new home so it can continue to thrive and compete successfully in this global marketplace.

"This application is not about increasing student numbers at the business school. It is about providing excellent facilities for an excellent faculty.

"Durham University Business School aims to ensure that more Durham University graduates stay here in the North-east, start new businesses, boost productivity, raise income levels and reduce unemployment.

"I hope that is a vision we can all support."

Read more: Durham Council HQ - Sands vs Akyley Heads debate continues

The North East Chamber of Commerce, Visit County Durham and Business Durham all supported the plans, saying it would make a "unique contribution to the county", develop DUBS's international reputation and attract visitors and jobs.

Objector Dennis Southwell asked for "one of the most important county planning meetings, that this council has ever held" to be deferred, saying the coalition's plan was "weak in content" .

He said: "This group have never asked the residents their thoughts on the new headquarters in Durham. They are just playing politics.

"The city's dying on its feet. The residents are fed up with the administration.

"If you approve this application the building will be sold and Durham County Council will be nomads forever. Durham County Council will never have a fit-for-purpose headquarters. The redevelopment of Aykley Heads could be put back three years."

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

The Labour group said it would affect residents and the city centre's character.

Cllr David Boyes asked how many people would use the building, and the professor replied it was hard to say with a complex timetable, but it was "unlikely to be full to capacity at any one time".

Cllr Boyes said: "This was supposed to be for 700. Now we're talking about 2,500+. I'm very concerned of the effect this is going to have on the city centre.

The Northern Echo: Cllr David Boyes. Picture: Durham County Council.Cllr David Boyes. Picture: Durham County Council.

"We accept that Durham University is the jewel in the crown. But because of the vagueness in the response and we're not sure how many numbers are going to be using this, I would ask for a deferral."

Cllr Patricia Jopling says: "It was going to be thoroughly underused with this council and in my view, this can only benefit the university and this authority.

"This is a win for both sides."

Planning officers recommended approving the plan, saying its socio-economic benefits for the region were not outweighed by the objections.

Councillors on the committee voted to approve it.

Three Labour members of the committee - group leader Carl Marshall, Kevin Shaw and Maura McKeon, had withdrawn from the debate in light of previous support for the original plans and opposition to the new plan.


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