“No plan, no costs and no clue!” the Tory-led Coalition running Durham County Council must come clean on the future of the empty Council HQ that is costing taxpayers millions, according to Labour.

The Coalition has refused requests to discuss a ‘secret’ part B report in public, that would allow challenge on its controversial decision to sell off the new purpose-built Council HQ at the Sands in Durham City centre.

Conservative, LibDem and Independent councillors are being accused of “stage managing a debate” on HQ proposals, as part of an already packed meeting agenda.

At tomorrow (Friday) morning’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Labour councillors will demand more transparency, so taxpayers can fully appreciate the expense and folly of the administration’s plan to sell-off the new HQ.

Labour leader, Cllr Carl Marshall said:

“Why doesn’t the Coalition come clean and finally admit what we have known for over a year – that they are making multi-million pound decisions that impact on every taxpayer in County Durham with no plan, no costs and no clue what they are doing!

“There are so many questions left ignored and unanswered. Why can’t we scrutinise costs for Coalition plans for a third HQ? How much do they estimate it will cost, given increases in raw material prices? Why no feasibility studies on the overall cost of three Council HQs? Why no explanation of the decision not to put the Sands building on the open market?

“It’s time to come clean – why doesn’t this chaotic Coalition admit to the people of Durham that that our county is losing millions of pounds that must be paid back to the LEP; money Labour secured for the development of Aykley Heads to lay the foundations for once in a generation private sector investment with the potential to create 6,000 essential new jobs!

“And why take such an almighty gamble when they either haven’t explored or don’t understand all of the alternative options open to them? They are fixated on the sale of a ready to move into HQ without any idea of the costs associated with building another one. Where is their evidence that it’s cheaper to run three HQs than the one sitting empty at The Sands?

“The LibDems, Conservatives and so-called Independents must come clean – either let us all in on this incredible masterplan or admit that it is making undemocratic decisions that could negatively impact on our county for generations.”

Labour wants the Council to move into The Sands HQ and fast track creation of the 6,000 jobs on Aykley Heads, ensuring all plans provide long term value for money, as outlined in last year’s independent report that found moving to The Sands offered best value for money.

An independent assessment found that Aykley Heads could:

  • Accommodate 718,000sqft office development
  • Accommodate 77,000sqft supporting development, including a hotel
  • Create over 6,000 jobs
  • Generate £1.5 – £1.7m in annual business rates

Labour deputy leader, Cllr Rob Crute, said:

“Labour will make sure Durham is once again open for business, following a year of decline and regression under this Coalition. We will move to The Sands, ready Aykley Heads for development and set County Durham back on the right footing to move forward, grow and prosper.

“The University is an integral part of Durham, but we need bodies who will spend money in the city centre, not another academic building that brings cache to the University, but nothing to the city economy.”