Claims new Durham office park will boost city centre trade a 'red herring', public inquiry told

Claims a major new office park at Aykley Heads will boost trade in Durham City are a ‘red herring’, according to a key business leader.

Wednesday, 12th May 2021, 6:27 pm
Durham County Council plans for new HQ

Colin Wilkes top boss at Durham’s historic Market Hall, has poured cold water on Durham County Council’s (DCC) insistence its moves to redevelop its current County Hall HQ will increase footfall.

But despite this he has also backed the local authority’s decision to shift its main base of operations to the city centre, which he thinks will have the desired effect.

“Any suggestion that the proposed new business park at Aykley Heads will have a positive day-to-day economic effect on the city centre from its workforce is, in my opinion, a red herring,” he said.

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“Staff from County Hall greatly reduced their trips into the city centre, when the parking facilities were withdrawn on the Sands, as it was just too far to walk there and back and shop within an hour.

“And I see no evidence to suggest that a workforce located further away geographically would seek to visit the city centre in their lunch break.”

Wilkes, managing director of Durham Markets Company since 1996, was speaking today (Wednesday, May 12) at the fifth day of a public inquiry into DCC’s attempt to strip part of the Sands of it’s protected ‘common land’ status to make way for a car park serving its new £50 million riverside HQ, currently under construction.

The land, which makes up less than six per cent of the wider Sands site, was formerly used as a coach park.

And while Wilkes, who was made an MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours last year (2020) for services to independent businesses, added he was ‘supportive’ of the new HQ plans, his concern was for the impact the loss of the coach park would have on his market traders and visitors to the city.

He said: “I’m a pragmatic and practical man.

“I’ve been liaising with officers from the county council as to how the situation can perhaps be best remedied, so far as our coach-borne visitors are concerned.

“And, you know, we’re looking at lots of options, depending on, you know what happens with this inquiry.”