Construction of a new state-of-the-art £14m police headquarters has been halted by the discovery of a single newt hundreds of yards off site. Outgoing Durham Police chief constable Jon Stoddart cut the first sod on the force’s long-awaited new HQ in Durham City last October. But, since then, no work has been done on the site.
The delay is due to a single Great Crested newt having been found some distance away. Frustrated police chiefs say every day of delay is costing the cash-strapped force £2,000 – meaning the hitch has already cost up to £250,000. The force offered to build log pile “newt houses” on the site, in case the newt migrated while construction was taking place, but officials from Natural England, the guardian of England’s natural environment, demanded more be done.
It is understood that the agency did not feel the police’s plans were robust enough. The force then returned with an improved offer in mid-December but, nearly two months on and well beyond a deadline of January 17, they are still waiting for NE’s response. Temporary Chief Constable Mike Barton said: “We are an organisation that enforces the law so it’s obvious that we’ve got to follow the law as well. We’re comfortable with that. But there’s a slight degree of frustration.”
The newt was found well beyond the proposed headquarters site. However, its discovery triggered the imposition of a 500m exclusion zone, which reaches onto the plot. A Natural England spokesman said: “We are treating this case as the highest priority. We are working flat-out to process the licence application and hope to complete this in the next few days.”