Failure to secure permission to build on protected land could cost Durham County Council (DCC) £60,000 – with the possibility of further costs piled on top.

DCC has been defending its plans to build a car park for staff and councillors on the Sands, in Durham City, as part of the wider multi-million-pound development of their new riverside HQ.

The council secured approval for the multi-million-pound riverside base at the Sands, in 2019. The local authority is now having to fight to prove it can construct a car park for staff and councillors on ‘common land’ formerly used as a coach park.

Giving evidence to an independent government inspector, local authority chiefs admitted that if they were turned down there is a distinct possibility it could land them with a five-figure redesign bill. DCC would not be drawn on the potential for further financial hits.

The county council’s spatial policy manager, Mike Allum said: “It is a small proportion of the overall development costs. In explaining the costs, he added: “It should also be noted that £60,000 is the cost of the redesign, the planning application that would be required to move the storage tank, etc.

Mr Allum went on to explain: “Then there would be the actual physical construction costs, which may be different, because of the new location – £60,000 is for the redesign and there would be other costs on top of that, but I’m not aware what the details of those would be.”

Mr Allum was speaking today at the public inquiry into DCC’s application to strip a portion of the Sands site of its ‘common land’ status to make way for a planned 60-space car park.

The inquiry, which was held by video link and broadcast via YouTube, has been adjourned before it concludes in May.

A planning law specialist, Nicola Allen, who is acting for the City of Durham Parish Council and the Durham City Freemen, questioned why the council would not have a more accurate assessment of potential extra costs, given the ‘risk’ its application to strip of land of protected status could be rejected.

She also queried the local authority’s ‘commitments to the green agenda’, given its insistence on building a car park for its new HQ.

She added: “The council has made significant investments in park and ride and it has given planning permission for large employers to locate close to this site, for example the Passport Office, with no requirement for parking.

“Why is it that this council says council staff have to be able to park close to the site and it will be inconvenient if they don’t?”