Work is set to begin on a major business park for County Durham, paving the way for 4,000 new jobs and a £400 million boost to the economy.
Durham County Council is to begin work on the park at Aykley Heads, at Durham City, having already pledged £6 million to the project’s first phase. The remaining £6 million for phase one comes from the government’s Getting Building Fund, which aims to deliver jobs, skills and infrastructure across the country.
The milestone commencement of work has today been welcomed by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP,) North East England Chamber of Commerce and Durham University.
The vision for Aykley Heads is to create ‘A Development for a Different World’ – in recognition of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the way people work. It will offer a new and unique business location for the region that maximises economic growth in County Durham and delivers jobs in new and growing sectors. It is one of five designated strategic employment sites across the county and part of the council’s ambitious mission to provide more and better jobs, bridging the gap in economic performance with other parts of the UK.
Aykley Heads is also evidence of the council’s commitment to keeping major projects on track through the coronavirus pandemic, in recognition of how important they are to the county’s long-term economic future.
The site’s first two phases offer the prospect of a potential 4,000 jobs and it is estimated a further 1,800 will be supported in the construction of the park.
The first phase will see the creation of 3,500 square metres of flexible office space within a three-storey building and 124 car parking spaces to the north of the site.
Work on ‘Plot C’ will begin in the coming weeks with the commencement of groundworks ahead of the construction of the building.
Cllr Simon Henig, Leader of Durham County Council, said: “We are delighted to be starting work at Aykley Heads, a key strategic site which aims to deliver thousands of new high quality jobs for County Durham and the North East.
“Aykley Heads will offer ‘A Development for a Different World’ – in recognition of how the pandemic has changed the way people work. It will be a top-class destination for businesses by virtue of its location in a World Heritage City, excellent transport links and also the environment we are creating for staff which will be an attractive and environmentally friendly setting with plenty to enjoy indoors and out. We are also very pleased to be working with Durham University to explore how the park can deliver a unique digital offer for occupants.
“We know from our conversations with developers and investors that these are the kind of things they want in a business park and that there is strong interest from companies in being part of Aykley Heads. This will only be strengthened by County Durham being included in a national top ten recently for fintech growth.
“The start of work on site signals our desire to continue to deliver and support schemes which bring economic growth and more and better jobs. Projects like Aykley Heads will be key to ensuring resilience and our long-term recovery.”
The North East LEP is a public, private, and education sector partnership that covers Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland local authority areas. It manages the Getting Building Fund in the North East and has added to the money available by providing £8m from its North East Investment Fund.
Andrew Moffat CBE, Chair of the Investment Board at the North East LEP, said: “The £6m investment from the government’s Getting Building Fund will drive forward the creation of new Grade A office accommodation in County Durham, paving the way for more businesses to join this thriving business park.
“Already home to growing fintech company, Atom Bank, and the North East England Chamber of Commerce, Aykley Heads is one of the region’s fastest growing employment sites, attracting inward investment and creating more and better jobs for County Durham and North East England.
“This next phase in the development of Aykley Heads business park will create an initial 262 jobs and create hundreds more when the building opens.
“Along with the Milburngate development, Aykley Heads has helped position County Durham as a prime location for office space, and a great location to start and grow a business.”
A hybrid planning application for Aykley Heads was approved in December, giving full permission for Plot C and outline consent for the rest of the site.
This includes land currently occupied by the council’s County Hall headquarters, with the authority having agreed to move to a new smaller headquarters in the heart of Durham City to pave the way for the business park. The new headquarters will provide a base for 1,000 council staff, boosting footfall and trade in the city centre, as well as in Crook, Seaham, Spennymoor and Meadowfield where other employees will be located.
The first two phases of Aykley Heads will when complete provide up to 38,468sq m of floorspace and be divided into six plots, with each providing office buildings and parking
spaces. ‘Character zoning’ will be used to create distinctiveness, while green spaces and paths will be provided for the enjoyment of workers, residents and visitors.
Professor Stuart Corbridge, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, said: “Durham University makes a significant positive contribution to the North East economy, worth around £600 million a year and supporting over 10,000 jobs. We are proud to be working closely with Durham County Council across a wide range of areas, to the benefit of our County and communities and to ensure that our economy recovers quickly from impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Aykley Heads project is an extremely exciting venture for our City, County and region. It will bring new, high-quality jobs in an attractive setting, with excellent links to the city, university and transport network. Along with other developments in the pipeline across the region, the Aykley Heads project will be another reason for our outstanding students to remain in the North East beyond graduation and make the region their home. We look forward to the development of strong collaborative research links to the Aykley Heads business base that are closely aligned to our research strengths and to support companies with their Continued Professional Development needs. We also see strong potential for siting new ventures arising from our staff spinouts and student start-up businesses. We look forward to working with Durham County Council to maximise its potential.”
Aykley Heads already benefits from close links to the A1, East Coast Main Line and other public transport, as well as cycling routes. These have already attracted a number of high profile firms to the vicinity, including the business and IT consultancy Waterstons, as well as Atom Bank and the chamber of commerce.
James Ramsbotham, chamber chief executive, said: “The Aykley Heads development will be eagerly anticipated by many aspiring businesses who desire quality commercial premises with outstanding transport links, so close to both the A1(M) and the East Coast Main Line, and in the proximity of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Together with all the planned developments nearby, this location will provide modern buildings with excellent hospitality nearby and all the other amenities that will complement the offer. The chance to provide such excellent facilities in Durham will attract high quality businesses from far and wide. It is no coincidence that the chamber chose this position for our HQ thirty years ago and we now look forward to welcoming others to this outstanding site.”
County Durham boasts four other strategic employment sites, with Jade Business Park near Seaham, Integra 61 at Bowburn, and Forrest Park at Newton Aycliffe all welcoming their first tenants last year. The £5 million expansion of NETPark at Sedgefield, is also underway and set to create up to 1,400 jobs. In total, the five sites are set to bring 15,000 jobs to the county.
County Durham and Newcastle were recently named among the UK’s ten highest growth ‘clusters’ in fintech – financial services and technology.