Labour councillors have slammed a Tory-led Coalition review of the new council HQ as “pointless and a waste of taxpayers’ money”.
In questions to Durham County Council’s new Coalition Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Labour will ask for a breakdown of costs to taxpayers for a recent review of the new building at The Sands.
Questions will also be raised about the impact of selling the new HQ on other developments in the city, the uncertainty created by halting progress on the redevelopment of the Aykley Heads site as a new business park, and what measures are being put in place to ensure staff safety as many return to work following the pandemic.
Cllr Shaw said: “The new Tory Coalition wasted time, taxpayers’ money and officer resources to carry out a study that reached the same conclusion that was made years ago, prior to Labour’s decision to build a new HQ.
“If the Tories, Lib Dems and Independents’ aim was to produce a document that totally vindicated Labour’s decision, then they achieved that. However, we did the due diligence at least four years ago, so this review is a pointless waste of taxpayers’ money.
“We need to know how much this review has cost the people of this county. When money is short and every penny spent counts, throwing money at a needless survey is an absolute disgrace.”
The decision by the Tory Coalition, which is propped up by Lib Dem and Independent councillors, to call into question the future of the new HQ has considerable knock-on effects, namely providing a safe environment for current council employees and the future of the Aykley Heads site, which had been earmarked for development to create a business park, bringing jobs and prosperity to the city.
Cllr Angela Surtees, said: “Work did not stop at The Sands during the pandemic because Labour wanted to ensure that we were able to provide a modern, safe environment for our returning workforce. What this decision by the Coalition means is that staff will be returning to a building that even the Tory’s own report states is no longer fit for purpose.
“If this Coalition decides to sell, rent or do something else with The Sands building, it effectively condemns Aykley Heads-based employees to at least another four or five years working in a building that is not suitable as a modern workplace, following a decade of neglect caused by the Government austerity purge.”
The delays also mean increased uncertainty for the Aykley Heads plans, with many prominent business leaders appealing to the Coalition to not shelve business park plans.
Cllr Eddy Adam, of Aycliffe West division, said: “It’s bewildering that this Cabinet has backed itself so far into a corner by opposing this essential new HQ at The Sands, that the only way it can see of getting out is by risking development in the city, putting our employees’ health at risk and building a third council HQ.
“Sense must prevail at some point. We have an almost complete, purpose-built HQ in the middle of a city that will hugely benefit from a large employer based at its heart – it’s time for this Coalition to admit it was wrong about the HQ, that Labour took the best possible course of action for the authority and to finally shelve these ridiculous new ideas of building another HQ at Aykley Heads.”