HUNDREDS of Government jobs are to be shipped out of Sunderland city centre.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) unveiled proposals earlier this year to close Gilbridge House and Shackleton House.
Workers and unions fought to keep the buildings open but yesterday their fight ended in failure.
The proposal will see more than 300 staff from the city centre and about 200 from Weardale House in Washington moved to Waterside House, at Sunderland Enterprise Park, or Waterview House next to the Washington Wetlands Centre.
A handful of workers could be forced to relocate to the former benefits centre, in Longbenton, North Tyneside.
Staff and unions mounted the campaign against the plans, which they claimed could cost city centre businesses more than £10,000 a week, including an online petition to oppose the move.
But yesterday they learned the offices are to close by the end of 2015 at the latest.
Their future use remains unclear.
“People were visibly upset,” said public and commercial services union spokesman Les Steel. “Some were crying. I think it was the realisation of the situation sinking in.
“People had been clinging to that last bit of hope and when the decision was put back a couple of weeks ago, they wondered whether that might be a good thing.”
Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott said: “This is a very sad though perhaps not unexpected decision.
“It does not account for people’s quality of life and it takes absolutely no account of the economic effects on the city centre.”
Keeping and creating jobs in the heart of Sunderland is a key part of the city council’s economic strategy.
Yesterday’s announcement was condemned by businessman Harry Collinson, chairman of the Sunderland City Centre Traders’ Association.
“I think it is another bad blow for the city centre.
“We need these kinds of professional posts in the city in order to attract other professionals.
“I also feel sorry for those people who are affected by this – they are going to have to find alternative means of getting to and from work.”
Council leader Paul Watson said: “The continued regeneration of our city centre remains a priority for us.
“With little sign of the UK economy improving, announcements like these are disappointing but only increase our resolve to build on the successes of recent months with more than 4,000 new jobs in the city and continue the steady progress we are making.”
Gary Hutchinson, chairman of the North East Chamber of Commerce’s Sunderland committee, said: “It is very disappointing that further employment should be lost to the city centre.
“I know there has been some hard work done to retain these jobs.
“It is important for the city centre economy that these jobs are replaced and more created as soon as possible.
“It is key that the local authority, the local enterprise partisanship and the business community work together to make sure that happens.”