A NORTH-East authority is progressing with plans to bulldoze its headquarters to make way for a business park it hopes will create up to 6,000 jobs.

Durham County Council has hailed its land at Aykley Heads in Durham as offering a “once in a generation” opportunity to create jobs and boost the economy.

The authority, which first announced the plans in 2015, has now created a business plan which will go before its cabinet at a meeting next Wednesday.

It says the proposals could bring a £400m boost to the economy and create about 6,000 new jobs over the next decade.

Council leader Simon Henig said: “Paving the way for the development of Aykley Heads as a strategic employment site represents a once in a generation opportunity to attract thousands of jobs for Durham and put hundreds of millions of pounds into the county’s economy.”

He added: “We’re talking about giving more opportunities for local people and graduates and young people who leave County Durham and the North-East and don’t come back because the job opportunities aren’t here.

“Durham does lag behind in some of the economic data. The figures are better than they were but they do still lag behind.”

Aykley Heads, which has been chosen partly for its road and rail connections, is already home to about 40 business, including Atom Bank, which has recently expanded in new premises, and business incubator Salvus House.

The council plans to deliver the scheme in three phases, with the first phase based around existing businesses to the north of the site, creating 1,000 jobs, the second phase at County Hall, creating 2,700 jobs, and a third stage on land opposite Durham Police’s headquarters.

It estimates it will cost about £50m to knock down County Hall and move to a new building in Durham city centre.

If approved by cabinet next week, a planning application for phases one and two are due to be submitted in the summer, with work starting in the next two to three years.

The third phase, which is is hoped will deliver 2,300 jobs, will only go ahead if there is sufficient demand from businesses, and is unlikely to happen until towards the end of the 2020s.

It is hoped the park will attract businesses from the finance, banking and legal sectors and if it comes to fruition there would be about 2,500 more people working in the area.

There are currently almost 4,000 people working on the site, with about 2,600 people based at County Hall and 1,300 more working in the private sector.

Chief executive Terry Collins said: “It really is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I can’t recall another time when we’ve said that. It’s the opportunity to bring 6,000 jobs and grow what we have been doing.

“We are confident this can be achieved over a period of time.”

Durham’s MP Roberta Blackman-Woods commended the council on its “forward thinking” approach. She said: “It is vital that Durham is able to compete with others cities in the North-East as a place to do business, and we need a dedicated space within the city to promote start-up companies, and to transfer the knowledge at the University into jobs by making Durham an attractive place for graduates and others to live and work.

“Aykley Heads is ideal for such a business park, as it offers a prestigious, easily accessible location close to the city centre.”

James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce, which is based at Aykley Heads, said: “It is no coincidence that there has been a decision to develop the County Hall site. “We have been here for 25 years as it is an excellent business location, right in the heart of the region, with great transport links via road and rail and equal distance to Tees Valley and Tyne and Wear. It is also a very beautiful place.”

Andrew Hodgson, chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The new businesses this development will attract on Aykley Heads can contribute further to the economy via the supply chain that will develop around these businesses.

“Experience tells us that from the potential 6,000 new jobs created on Aykley Heads there would likely be a further 6,000 jobs generated across the region to support them. It’s a very important opportunity for the region.”