Six-figure cost and not a newt in sight - taxpayer picks up bill for police HQ delay (From Darlington and Stockton Times)
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Six-figure cost and not a newt in sight - taxpayer picks up bill for police HQ delay
THE possible presence of newts on the site of a new £14m police headquarters cost the taxpayer more than £100,000 but not a single one of the highly protected amphibians was found, The Northern Echo can reveal.
Building of the long-awaited new Durham Police HQ was delayed by nearly four months after great crested newts, one of the most protected species in the UK, were found near the Aykley Heads site, in Durham City.
The newts, thought to number between two and ten, were believed to be living about 500m away near the East Coast Main Line – but it was feared they might find their way onto the building site.
Hence, environment watchdog Natural England refused to grant the force the necessary great crested newt development licence until it installed “temporary amphibian fencing”, low-level plastic sheeting buried in the ground and supported by posts, to stop the creatures straying into the path of the heavy machinery.
Work finally began in March and today (Monday, December 16), builders and police chiefs gathered for a ‘topping out’ ceremony – the three-storey shell having now reached its full height.
But afterwards, Chief Constable Mike Barton told The Northern Echo the delay had cost a six-figure sum and no newts had been found on site.
Police say crumbling Sixties-built current headquarters, just a few yards away, costs £1.6m a year to maintain and its successor will be £2,000 a day cheaper, meaning the four-month delay may have cost up to £240,000.
Mr Barton has made no criticism of Natural England, saying the police would always protect the environment.
But he said he was looking forward to the new 5,650sq-metre headquarters producing savings of £750,000 a year from when the 600 staff move in next September.
Defending the £14m expense, he said: “The payback period is not long and the useful life of the old building is coming to an end.
“Organisations have still got to be optimistic and positive about making investment, even in tough economic times.”
Mr Barton also said more police would be based around County Durham and Darlington, closer to communities.
Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg said: “The new building will give staff who are working exceptionally hard more state-of-the-art facilities.
“It will also lead to a better, more efficient delivery of services.”
The old HQ is to be demolished to make way for around 230 houses, mostly executive homes.
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