A SUCCESSFUL campaign to keep hundreds of jobs in Darlington culminated today (March 19) in the official opening of the new £8m Department for Education offices (DofE).
The Bishopsgate House offices, built onto the rear of Darlington Town Hall, were officially unveiled at a ceremony attended by senior councillors, DofE officials and the town’s MP Jenny Chapman.
The opening marked the end of a well-fought campaign to keep more than 400 DofE jobs in Darlington after the government announced in 2012 they were looking to move them elsewhere in the North-East – most likely to Newcastle.
Darlington Council, with the support of The Northern Echo and others, lobbied to keep the jobs in Darlington and within two-years of the new-build idea being mooted, the offices are now up and running and filled with DofE staff.
At the ceremony, Darlington Council leader Bill Dixon praised the efforts made to ensure the project came to fruition.
He told The Northern Echo: “It was a whole town effort, including the DofE, all political parties, our MP Jenny Chapman – also fair play to Michael Fallon (Conservative Minister) – and all the people that signed the petition on High Row and the staff at Mowden Hall who signed a Christmas card to Michael Gove.
“It was an unstoppable movement from the whole town.”
Cllr Dixon added that because the DofE is leasing the offices from Darlington Council, the money used to fund the project was borrowed against the forecast rent revenue, meaning taxpayers did not foot the bill.
Darlington MP Jenny Chapman said the new offices would prove a real benefit for the town centre as well as for the 430 staff that have now vacated the unfit for purpose Mowden Hall.
She said: “Our mission was really to keep the jobs in Darlington, but to have them in the town centre is an added bonus.
“I think without a doubt it will be a boost to the town centre; a lot of people will be coming here every day and it is very easy for them to make use of the town centre shops and facilities in a way that they haven’t been able to at Mowden Hall.”
She added: “Everybody involved has worked together brilliantly and I think that is what I learned from it all – whatever differences you have got can be put to one side and this is what can be achieved.”
The DofE have the offices on a ten-year lease from Darlington Council and Andrew McCully, director general of the DofE, has been involved in the process from the beginning.
He said the feedback from staff that had already moved into the new building was wholly positive and it was hoped that the jobs would remain in Darlington for the foreseeable future.
He said: “In the public sector when you have different governments with different spending commitments it is difficult to look that far ahead (beyond the ten-year lease) but certainly we made a commitment to the area when we made the decision to be based here and that is the way we are looking at going forward.”
The construction of the new offices involved 350 tonnes of steel which was melted and cast on Teesside before being cut and finished in Peterlee.
The building work provided jobs for more than 450 North-East tradesmen and the site is believed to be one of the largest and first public sector hubs of its kind in the North-East shared by a local and a central government department.