Councillors in County Durham are being asked to commission an Options Review into the futures of their current base at Aykley Heads and the planned new one at the Sands in Durham City.

The major move would leave all options on the table over what has been an at times controversial development.

The Labour Party lost control of the council in elections held earlier this year and the major vote which would see a potential review of developments is due to be held on Wednesday, June 16th with councillors being asked to give the review the green light.

Coun Richard Bell, Cabinet member for finance, said: “The new Cabinet wants to ensure that all options for the use of the headquarters building are fully considered and a full options appraisal will provide us with information on which to base our decisions going forward.

“The review will be undertaken as quickly as possible whilst providing an evidence-based assessment of future options available for the building and our headquarters’ functions.

“There is also an opportunity to consider how the wider Covid-19 recovery can be taken into account in our future plans.”

Coun James Rowlandson, Cabinet member for resources, investments and assets, said: “As part of reviewing the council’s priorities, we are very keen to ensure that we are making the best possible use of all our assets and getting the best return for our investments.

“The new building at The Sands is clearly a significant asset and investment and we believe it is only right that a timely and full options appraisal is carried out to make sure we proceed with the most appropriate use for it.”

Coun Elizabeth Scott, Cabinet member for economy and partnerships, said: “The options appraisal if agreed would consider both progressing with the site’s development as the council’s headquarters and other potential uses so it is important to stress we are not ruling anything in or out.

“This is a really important period for our economy amid the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and that is why it is vital that we make sure we are putting The Sands site to the best possible use whilst ensuring we provide the strongest possible opportunities for new jobs in the city and across the wider county.”

The appraisal would look at alternative uses of the building on The Sands as well as continuing with the proposed use as a new headquarters, to ensure best value and economic benefit.

Cabinet agreed in January 2018 to relocate to The Sands and to develop the Aykley Heads area, home to its current County Hall base, as a strategic employment site capable of attracting high paid jobs to the county.

The new headquarters was designed to create a smaller, more modern and efficient building to allow staff to work flexibly and with appropriate collaboration and meeting space.

Staff currently working out of the existing County Hall building that was not planned to be moved to the new headquarters were to be accommodated at other strategic sites across the county.

The report to next week’s meeting sets out how a capital budget of £49.1m was allocated for construction of the new headquarters and how Kier Property Developments Limited was awarded the contract to build it following a competitive procurement exercise.

Work began on site in 2018 and the report explains that the facility is “substantially built” with a target completion date of October this year.

The report to the meeting sets out how Medium Term Financial Plan savings of £275,000 are currently anticipated from the relocation to the new headquarters.

The meeting will hear that as part of its initial review of priorities and in setting our strategic direction for the next four years, the Joint Administration is proposing to review the use of the new building as well as considering options for the existing headquarters at Aykley Heads, whilst ensuring a focus remains on creating strategic employment opportunities in the city.

To enable the review to take place, Cabinet is being recommended to agree to an options appraisal which would include an assessment of opportunities, costs, risks and the implications of any proposals that are brought forward.

If agreed, the results of the appraisal will be reported to Cabinet no later than September 2021.

Cabinet will meet at 9.30 am on Wednesday, June 16th in the Council Chamber at County Hall.

Due to social distancing requirements, spaces for members of the public are very limited and anyone interested in attending in person must register in advance by emailing DemocraticWearservices@durham.gov.uk

The meeting will be broadcast live online on the council’s YouTube channel.

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