The time is ticking on plans to create a new civic centre for Sunderland in case its 1970s base is given listed building status.
Sunderland City Council has successfully applied for a Certificate of Immunity from Historic England up until to May 2022.
The authority has confirmed the move helps forge the way for its proposals to move its headquarters to the former Vaux brewery plot due to rising maintenance costs and excess space, with the Burdon Road site to be sold for family housing.
Council chiefs say the Certificate of Immunity helped pave the way for the move, which would save the council millions of pounds if it was to refurbish the civic centre.
While opposition parties have backed the proposed shift due to the increasingly dilapidated nature of the civic, they have expressed concerns a public sector building on the Vauz site means the level of private business on the land will be reduced.
Councillor Niall Hodson, leader of the Lib Dem group, told the Echo he has concerns over the loss of commerce space on the Vaux, which is part of the Make It Sunderland scheme to bring in business.
“There was a big plan to bring in business and residents on the Vaux site and they have abandoned that plan,” he said.
“Make It Sunderland’s plan was five years in the making and at considerable expense and my concern is this has scuppered that.”
He also said areas such as Sheepfolds, Hendon and the riverside should be considered as the new location.
Councillor Robert Oliver, leader of the council’s Conservative group, called the Vaux move “an admission of failure to put the civic centre there at the taxpayers’ expense.”
However, he also said: “It would be better if the civic centre was sorted out now.
“It’s not a building we would want to preserve and there would be a bill for repairs and renovation, which would cost millions.
“We wouldn’t support listing it and we would want to avoid that, or else the city would be lumbered with a bill that is too big and for a building that is out of date and takes up maintenance costs.
“But the Vaux site really should be private sector-led and there are other parts of the city were the council building could be housed, other offices could be converted.”
Leader of the council Councillor Graeme Miller said the Certificate of Immunity helped pave the way for the move.
He said the outline planning permission for the Vaux will still cover other office space, a hotel, shops, leisure and exhibition space, car parking and 200 homes.
Coun Miller added: “Critics need to take a step back and check their facts as the council has not always had control of the Vaux site.
“Now that the council and its partners have control of the site that development is moving ahead.
“Under council ownership, the Vaux site has been remediated, tidied up, and prepared for development with extensive landscaping and ground works.
“Moving to Vaux would be £1.4 million cheaper over 25 years than relocating to Holmeside and £4.7million cheaper than remaining in and refurbishing the current civic centre.”