BUILDING work has ground to a halt on a new £14million police headquarters – after the discovery of a single newt.
A sod-cutting ceremony took place on the site of Durham Police’s new HQ in Durham City last October. But since then no work has taken place.
Now it has been revealed the hold up at the Aykley Heads site is down to a Great Crested newt being found hundreds of yards away near the East Coast railway line.
Police chiefs say every day of delay is costing the force £2,000, with the hold-up bill already totalling £250,000.
Bosses have even offered to build “newt houses” on the site in case the newt migrated whil construction is taking place, but Natural England says more must be done to protect the amphibian.
The force submitted an improved offer in mid-December, but are still waiting for NE’s response.
Temporary Chief Constable Mike Barton said: “We are an organisation that enforces the law so it’s obvious that we’ve got to follow the law as well. We’re comfortable with that.
“But there’s a slight degree of frustration. I want to get into the new headquarters, so we can start making the savings from having a much smaller building.”
The current 1960s-built HQ costs £1.6m a year to maintain, needs £4.7m of repairs and chiefs say it is no longer fit for purpose. Its successor will be £2,000-a-day cheaper to run, saving around £750,000 a year.
The newt was found well beyond the proposed headquarters site. However, its discovery triggered the imposition of a 500m exclusion zone, which reaches onto the plot.
Assistant Chief Officer Gary Ridley said: “We’re trying our best to get this resolved as quickly as possible but unfortunately we’re in the hands of a statutory agency.
“We’re sitting here with a scheme that’s ready to go.”
A Natural England spokesman said: “We are treating this case as the highest priority.
“We are working flat-out to process the licence application and hope to complete this in the next few days.”
The quango has suffered major funding cuts in recent years, leaving officials extremely overworked.
It has been reported the Government is considering going one step further and merging it with the Environment Agency, under its “bonfire of the quangos”.
Durham Police gained planning permission for the new HQ last June. The force plans to demolish its current base, just across the road, to make way for around 230 homes.