Austerity allows 'no choice' on office cutbacks plan - Durham council leader

Darlington and Stockton Times: Durham County Council leader Simon Henig Durham County Council leader Simon Henig

THE North-East’s biggest authority has “no choice” but to press ahead with controversial plans to cut back on frontline offices, its leader has said.

Durham County Council Labour chief Simon Henig was speaking as his cabinet today (Wednesday, January 15) agreed to dramatically scale back an ambitious buildings shake-up launched in 2010.

Councillor Henig said that strategy had been right at the time but those were “very different times”.

“It’s important that the council’s accessible to all of its residents, but we have no choice but to react to the times we live in and the sharply reduced public spending we’re dealing with at the moment,” he told a cabinet meeting at Durham’s County Hall.

The new plans will mean Bishop Auckland’s council office service will be reduced to one-day-a-week, by appointment only.

Independent councillor Sam Zair said this was not good enough, the impact should be monitored and money from selling the current Old Bank Chambers base should be ringfenced for the town.

Coun Brian Stephens, cabinet member for neighbourhoods and local partnerships, said ringfencing was against council policy.

No new office location has been agreed, although the Town Hall and Woodhouse Close leisure centre are being considered.

Investment planned for Newton Aycliffe has also been scrapped.

Coun Henig said it was important the authority was mindful of the issues and did “see how things are going”.

The overhaul has already seen civic centres in Consett, Chester-le-Street and Easington closed, plus offices in Meadowfield and Barnard Castle.

But Stanley will still get £790,000 for a new council office and library in the Louisa Centre, replacing outdated facilities elsewhere in the town.

The authority faces £242m of cuts between 2010 and 2017, including £23m in 2014-15.

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