With Durham City emerging as a clear favourite for the location of the proposed North-East Regional Assembly, Tony Kearney casts an eye over some of the buildings that could provide a possible home.

FOR a thousand years, the skyline of Durham's historic peninsular has been dominated by the castle and cathedral.

But it is a third building which, if the region votes Yes in the forthcoming referendum, will come to dominate the North-East's political skyline for the foreseeable future.

The search for a home for the proposed regional assembly, its 25 members and its 200 staff, appears to be focusing ever more closely on Durham City as a compromise capital to keep all corners of the North-East content.

Councillor Sue Pitts, leader of Durham City Council, was unequivocal that Durham was the ideal location for the assembly.

She said: "It has to be based in Durham. In terms of history and geography, Durham is central to the region.

"The city is an icon for the North-East. It isn't just a uniquely beautiful place, it is geographically central, so it avoids domination by the Tyne and the Tees power blocks and, because it is effectively a market town it placates the rural lobby - it is a place that everybody can agree on."

Durham County Council leader Ken Manton said: "The choice of Durham City as venue for an assembly's headquarters would solve tensions that exist between Tyneside and the Tees Valley.

"The North-East Regional Chamber of Commerce faced a very similar dilemma on its formation before deciding Durham City was the logical choice and natural location for its headquarters.

"For centuries, the region was ruled from Durham Castle by the Prince Bishops. It would be an even wiser choice today."

What seems less clear-cut is exactly where in the city the assembly would be based. Opponents say a new building is inevitable, while supporters insist it will based in an existing building.

Most of the speculation appears to centre on Aykley Heads, the area of the city that is home to County Hall, Durham Police headquarters and the DLI Museum and Art Gallery.

Over recent months, there have been repeated whispers suggesting one of three buildings in the area - County Hall itself, the County Library Services building and the new Rivergreen development due to be built nearby.

For the moment, County Hall appears an unlikely option, its offices and debating chamber would only become available in the event of the authority being disbanded as part of local government reorganisation.

A year ago, the county's library buildings were touted as a possible home in the medium term, although the ageing complex is known to require significant refurbishment to bring it up to scratch.

The third option is thought to be the Rivergreen development - a £5m environmentally-friendly office development being built on playing fields between County Hall and the police headquarters. Construction of the 48,000sq ft development is under way and should be completed by this time next year, providing conference facilities and office space.

The building could provide a home, but would expose the assembly to attack over expense.

Elsewhere in the city, attention has focused in recent days on Millburngate House, a grey 1960s office block on the banks of the River Wear, opposite the new Walkergate development. It is currently home to National Savings and the Passport Agency.

It is hardly an inspiring building, but it does fulfil most of the requirements - 27,000sq ft of office space, easily accessible and with plenty of parking, even if the car parks are prone to the occasional flood.

In an effort to avoid accusations of wasting taxpayers' money on ostentatious surroundings, pro-assembly campaigners are keen that the body has as simple a headquarters as possible. Office space on one of the industrial estates that ring the city centre has even been suggested.

Other better known candidates include Byland Lodge, one of several properties owned by Durham City Council which, again, would only become available if the authority loses out in a reorganisation.

The city's mock medieval Town Hall, in the Market Place would be an outside bet, but it would appear to be too small. Similarly, the fading Edwardian grandeur of Redhills, headquarters of Durham NUM for almost a century, has been suggested, although it, too, would require quite extensive work to transform what is largely a museum piece into a working office.