Hundreds of North East jobs appeared to have been saved last night as a deal was reached to keep a passport office in the region.
The Identity and Passport Service (IPS) looks set to move to a new site in Durham, potentially safeguarding 700 jobs which had been feared to be at risk as the lease on its current base nears its end.
The IPS is currently based at Milburngate House, in Durham city centre.
However with the Government’s lease on the sixties-built office block nearing its end and Durham County Council keen to demolish it, workers had feared their jobs could be moved out of the region or axed.
However, the consortium redeveloping Freeman’s Reach, the former home of the Durham Wasps ice hockey team across the River Wear, has revealed an agreement has been reached for the IPS to move onto its site.
Talks with unions are ongoing and the move is subject to contract and government approvals and planning permission being granted.
The consortium, including Carillion Developments, Arlington Real Estate and Richardsons Capital LLP, is turning Freeman’s Reach, most recently a bowling alley, into a £27m office development.
The first phase will be occupied by about 400 National Savings and Investments workers, also currently based in Milburngate House, who are expected to move in 2015.
Phase two was dependent on tenants being found.
But a spokesman confirmed it would be entirely occupied by the IPS and a detailed planning application has now been submitted.
Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods welcomed the news.
She said: “I’m really pleased. Keeping those jobs in Durham and in the city centre is really important.
“It would be my expectation that the development would be welcomed.
“I hope it manages to go through fairly easily.”
The IPS move clears the way for Milburngate House to be redeveloped.
A development brief, agreed last year, suggested demolishing it to make way for shops, homes and leisure facilities.
Neil McMillan, director of Carillion Developments, said: “Freeman’s Reach is proving to be a real catalyst for the wider regeneration of Durham’s riverside.
“It marks the first stage of a more strategic and comprehensive masterplan approach to the development on the riverside under the banner of Northern Quarter.”