REVISED plans for a council seat in Durham could mean the new offices are built a stone’s throw from what is now County Hall.
A review after a new administration replaced the old Labor leadership in May concluded that it is not viable to renovate the existing council building.
The controversial Â£ 49million development underway at The Sands in the city center could be sold or leased to a third party as part of a radical overhaul of existing plans.
And new offices could be created at Aykley Heads, allowing for the demolition of County Hall as part of the creation of a business park.
The Northern Echo understands that the council is in talks with Durham University to locate Durham Business School in Sands, replacing plans filed in the summer for a new Â£ 70million facility at the former swimming pool site at Elvet Waterside.
Artist’s impression of the appearance of the new building
But the proposals were criticized by the Labor county leader who described them as “an obscene waste of time, money and effort”. The findings of the review will be discussed on Wednesday next week and members of the authority’s cabinet will be asked to agree on a number of recommendations.
Deputy Head of Council and Cabinet Member for Finance Councilor Richard Bell said: âThe new Sands building represents a significant investment on the part of the Council.
âWe want to make sure that any decision we make regarding its future is value for money for the authority and is in the best interest of the residents of the county.
“The review examined a number of key issues, including the impact on Aykley Heads’ development of choosing not to occupy the Sands site, and we fully recognize that there is much to consider when approval of recommendations. ”
Councilor Richard Bell
The review found that converting to a hotel or multi-tenancy office space was not a cost-effective option as the building was designed specifically to provide office space to be occupied by a single organization.
Any conversion would therefore require significant design and construction work, the completion of which could take considerable time and the costs of which would be prohibitive.
The review found that the most viable alternative to council occupancy would be to lease or accept the freehold sale of the building to a single third party.
A similar arrangement with multiple occupants would not be viable due to the costs associated with the required conversion work.
The council confirmed that preliminary discussions had taken place with an interested third party, but said “deeper and more detailed negotiations are needed”.
When considering options for the future of County Hall, if the authority decided not to move into the Sands headquarters building, the review found it was not seen as practical or cost effective. to leave County Hall standing.
He concludes that the best option for the redevelopment of Aykley Heads and achieving the overall results of the master plan is the demolition of County Hall, which would allow the complete redevelopment of the area.
The review also revealed that the Aykley Heads development could accommodate a new building for the council, which will be factored into subsequent feasibility work.
There are also potential sites and buildings across the county that could provide suitable civic office and housing, but an options assessment should be undertaken to examine them in more detail.
The cabinet will be asked to endorse a number of recommendations at its meeting next week.
These include: – The most viable option for the council occupying the building at Sands would be the transfer or lease of the building to a single occupant, within the agreed timeframe.
– A business case is developed to assess alternatives for office space and civic space, while ensuring that the development of Aykley Heads can move forward, and for this business case and for it to be presented to members by summer 2022.
– The board remains committed to the development of Aykley Heads as a strategic employment site and that County Hall should be demolished in order to support this.
– If it is not possible to obtain a satisfactory result with the third party within the specified time, the council will occupy the building on Les Sables.
Cllr James Rowlandson, Cabinet Member for Resources, Investments and Assets, said: âIt is crucial that we make an informed decision on this important issue.
âIt is clear from the report’s findings that some options are simply not viable due to financial or time implications, while others are not in the public interest. “However, we now need to take a closer look at areas where it is possible to change our approach and, as such, it is important that we move forward now with developing a business case to further examine our options. ”
Labor, now in opposition, stresses that the report says the decision to build a new headquarters at The Sands was “commercially sound”.
Councilor Carl Marshall
County Durham Chief of Labor Cllr Carl Marshall said: âThis report is a rationale for the decision of the old labor council to build a new headquarters in the heart of the city, but because the councilors and candidates in this chaotic conservative-led coalition were so vocally opposed to him in the election, they got into a stalemate and the only way they see them coming out is to build another board seat .
“What a waste of time, money and obscene effort when there is a near-completed, purpose-built, energy-efficient building right in the city center, ready to welcome employees, while the gradual return to work continues … building that board officers and independent reviewers agree was the best and most cost effective solution to the board seat problem.
“So what will happen to Aykley Heads if the Coalition’s plans come to fruition?” “Intended for a business park – crucial urban space for business, bringing jobs and prosperity to Durham – under these plans nothing will happen for at least a year while the proposals are considered and debated, it will be then went through a planning process and extended construction period, with construction costs now at least 20% higher than when we gave the green light to The Sands.
âIt will take years to come to fruition as board employees, already worried about their health, work on a dangerous decaying property, neglected after a decade of conservative austerity that has prevented essential upgrades.
âThere are just so many reasons not to do it. ”
“We are barely four months into the administration of this Conservative-led coalition and we have seen him deny that there is a social services crisis in County Durham, reject plans to expand free parking for frontline workers, refuse to pressure the government to demand a fairer deal for Durham and now they plan to build a third headquarters on land meant for private sector companies while subduing the workforce from advice to more miserable years in a property that is no longer suitable for use.
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