OVERCROWDED offices, narrow corridors and endless flights of steep stairs are the lasting memory of a tour around a council's headquarters.

However, the decision by Richmondshire District Council to move into new purpose-built offices has caused widespread anger.

Accusations of asset stripping greeted the council's plans to fund the new headquarters in nearby Colburn by selling off two car parks and five offices spread across Richmond.

Protesters also say the transfer of 150 council staff jobs would damage the town's economy.

Swale House, the headquarters in Richmond, is typical of the problem.

Policy officer Rachel Bowles, who works in the attic, said: "I can only have my computer in a certain place because of where the power-points are."

Colleague Kirsty Haslam has the desk under the beam because she is shorter.

She said: "In the winter, you are sitting in your jumper waiting for the building to heat up until Wednesday."

Mrs Haslam has to attend meetings at other offices around the town and says she can often be spotted moving between the buildings clutching armfulls of files.

The pair tell how a colleague was recently ill. She is now well enough to work, but not well enough to negotiate four flights of stairs every day, so works from home.

One pregnant staff member has to walk up 40 steps to the nearest toilet.

Council staff point to other offices which also have problems.

In Frenchgate House, Richmond, for instance, the women's toilets double as a photocopying room.

And none of the offices comply with the Disability Discrimination Act.

Simon Fletcher, the council's communications manager, echoed the feelings of many workers, and of the Audit Commission, which said that the office accommodation was unsatisfactory.

He described the offices as overcrowded, inefficient and expensive to maintain.

Mr Fletcher said: "These are beautiful old buildings, but they were never meant to be used as offices and we now need to move."

He has invited residents to contact him if they want more information on the offices and can be reached on (01748) 829100.

Tomorrow in The Northern Echo, the Richmond parliamentary candidates will give their views on the dispute.