THE FACE of a city is set to be transformed with the demolition of a building considered the biggest blot on its landscape.

Plans have been unveiled to demolish Milburngate House, in Durham City - which is home to the Passport Office and National Savings and Investments (NS&I).

There are proposals to relocate about 400 NS&I staff to new offices at Freeman's Reach across the River Wear on the site of the old ice rink.

The Home Office has also confirmed that several hundred workers at its regional Passport Office will also be relocated elsewhere in the city.

The landmark, constructed in the 1960s, was once branded by architectural historian Alec Clifton Taylor as "an assertive lump of hideous concrete" and a "disgrace".

Durham City Labour MP Roberta Blackman-Woods last night welcomed the news as an opportunity to build something aesthetically pleasing, while creating new job opportunities.

She said: "I will be pressing for a masterplan for the whole area, including North Road, the Milburngate House site and Freeman's Reach."

Durham County Council has announced the first stage of consultation - examining options for a development brief.

Karen Ward of NS&I said that Milburngate House had become too large and costly for NS&I and its operational partner Siemens IT Solutions and Services.

"We need to seek a smaller and more flexible, less expensive and more environmentally sustainable building which provides a better working environment for staff in Durham," she added.

The NS&I has given assurances there will be no impact on jobs and it remains committed to maintaining its presence in the city.

A Home Office spokesman said: "The passport staff will relocate to elsewhere in Durham City. There are no plans to reduce staff at this time."

County council cabinet member for regeneration, Neil Foster, said: "There is now an opportunity to take this very significant site to the market to see how it can best be redeveloped and have a positive impact on Durham's City centre's regeneration."

A two-day consultation event will be held in the Lantern Room, at Durham Town Hall - from 2pm to 7pm on Friday and from 10am to 2pm on Saturday.