Durham University pays over £50m for Council’s HQ

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Yesterday (27 April) plans for Durham University to purchase the Council’s unused £50m HQ and repurpose the building as a new home for the University’s Business School were approved.

Located across the river from the Radisson Blu Hotel, the new offices were completed in March. They were originally intended to provide a new home for Durham County Council, who are looking to move out of their current home, County Hall, built in the 1960s.

With the University’s purchase of the site, it has been suggested that the Council would look to develop a new civic centre at Aykley Heads, just north of the city centre. The exact amount that the University has agreed to pay for the building is not public. However, minutes from the meeting revealed that the £50m HQ was to be sold at a surplus.

At a cabinet meeting, Councillor Richard Bell, deputy council leader and cabinet member for finance said: “This is no finely balanced decision we are being asked to make here.

“The case is compelling. This is a good deal on anybody’s money and is further proof of the cabinet’s bold and ambitious vision for the future of our county.”

“This will provide significant flexibility for the council’s office accommodation, as well as broader regeneration opportunities and increased use of existing assets.

“While I cannot say how big a surplus this option will generate, I can assure the public that after the sale has been completed and the new accommodation has been built, the council will be significantly better off than if we move into the Sands.

“A significant capital surplus will be generated.”

“A significant capital surplus will be generated”

Councillor richard bell

In the meeting Councillor Hopgood described the plan as “a fully costed, value-for-money alternative” for the council. He questioned Labour’s opposition to the sale as “they do know the figure” which “provides the council with a net gain from the sale”.

Labour has described the sale of the HQ, which they commissioned in 2019 before losing control of the council, as “political”. Councillor Paul Sexton addressed this criticism during the meeting, stating that the decision is “practical” rather than “political”.

Kevan Jones, the Labour MP for Durham North, queried the plans for the council to sell the building, calling for an explanation of financial costs to the Council of alternative plans for the Council’s HQ.

Councillor Sexton responded to this demand by noting that such information is “commercially sensitive” and that members of the Council can access the private papers prior to a decision on the new arrangements. “We’re not hiding figures. We’re actually not able to share them at this moment in time”, he explained.

A Durham University spokesperson told Palatinate: “Durham University is at the forefront in boosting education, employment and infrastructure in Durham and supporting sustainable economic growth in North East England.

“The University, together with our many partners, is keen to build a sustainable future for its students, staff, Durham City and the wider community and direct its investment wisely for the benefit of all.

“Our University Strategy, 2017-2027, includes carefully planned targets for development and improvement to enable Durham to continue to be a world-leading university.

“Durham University Business School is among the leading business schools in the UK, Europe and the world”. The spokesperson added that “[a]n independent study has shown relocating the Business School to The Sands could increase its value to the economy by over a third, as well as creating 153 new jobs by 2031/32.”

A planning application to change the building’s use is expected to be considered in July.

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