The local authority says the major long-term project will cost an estimated £50m but will be a project transformative for the local economy and “life-changing for families across the county”.
An insurance company and a medical supplies firm have already shown an interest in the soon-to-be-vacant Aykley Heads site, where the pioneering digital-only Atom Bank is to have its UK base.
As the authority braces itself for further cuts in this week’s Budget, the huge sum set aside for the HQ rebuild will anger some, but the authority has insisted the bold move will safeguard and create thousands of high-quality jobs.
Councillor Neil Foster, cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “We have an opportunity we should not miss to pave the way for the sort of investment which will be life-changing for families across the county.
“We desperately need more and higher paid jobs for residents and take the chance to reduce our own costs at the same time.
“Such a move would require considerable initial investment but the economic potential of the Aykley Heads site shouldn’t be underestimated and to unlock this potential we must relocate.”
Staff based at the 1960s office block, which is said to now be largely used for storage, will be relocated either to the new site or exisiting council bases in Spennymoor, Crook, Meadowfield and Seaham.
Should the authority’s Cabinet endorse officers’ recommendations next week, the process will get under way and workers should be at their new desks by 2020.
While the council has not settled on where its new-build will be, sites near Milburngate and The Gates are options.
The construction will house around 1,000 people and is projected to generate an additional £1m for the city centre economy. More flexible ways of working, including hot desking, mobile-working and home-working will be a benefit, the council says.
It is unclear yet whether the council will sell the Aykley Heads site or rent it to a developer, but sales of council offices to date have brought in £7m in capital receipts.
Atom Bank has already secured its licence for its Aykley Heads HQ in a development that will bring 400 jobs to the site.
Ian Thompson, corporate director for regeneration and economic development at the council, believes the relocation has the potential to boost the city centre.
He said: “If we were not confident that this would create jobs then we would not be recommending to the politicians that we do it.
“This is all about getting those jobs onto this site and bringing work to the city centre and the county. Imagine if on the new city centre site, the added footfall could bring another scheme. This will all be new investment and it is a positive thing.”
It comes as local authority chiefs continue renegotiations with Government over the rejected County Durham Plan (CDP). After a planning inspector threw out the CDP, the council launched a judicial review but agreed a stay in proceedings for talks to open.
The CDP aims to create 30,000 fresh jobs, 500 hectares of employment land, 9,500sq metres of retail space and 31,400 new homes by 2030, with the university city of Durham at the heart of new development.
A decision on the CDP is expected on Friday and the council is optimistic, though it will still face strong opposition from greenbelt campaigners who feel it intrudes too far on the county’s green spaces.
Durham County Council is the second North East authority looking to move its HQ, as planners at Northumberland County Council will soon decide whether to switch from Morpeth to Ashington.