The Northern Echo’s historic Darlington home could be turned into 52 apartments under new plans, with staff awaiting a move to offices “more befitting a modern digital marketing services business”.
The Newsquest-owned daily has been based at Priestgate in the Country Durham town since 1917, but was put up for sale several years ago.
It is now the subject of a planning application submitted to Darlington Borough Council in December, which shows proposals to convert the building from offices to residential use with a mixture of one and two-bedroom flats.
Press Gazette understands staff are currently all based on one of four floors. In its own report of the plans, the Echo said this demonstrated how there is a “fraction of the numbers” who once worked on the newspaper.
The planning application said: “The Northern Echo intends to relocate to new accommodation more suited to the present size of the workforce and to retain its historic links with the town.”
A ground floor memorial to former Northern Echo employees who lost their lives in World War One will remain undisturbed by the redevelopment, with “more detailed consideration” of its setting to be addressed later.
The redevelopment is dependent on completion of the sale of the building and further planning permissions.
David Coates, regional managing director of Newsquest Yorkshire and North-East, said: “While we are very supportive of the planning application, The Northern Echo building has not yet been sold.
“We’ve been here before and were disappointed when the proposed sale fell through. Hopefully this time we will see it through to completion and we’ll be able to move into accommodation that’s more befitting a modern digital marketing services business.”
Northern Echo staff have been kept up-to-date with the plans over the past few years by the newspaper’s senior management team, a spokesperson added, despite claims that staff only found out about the planning application when it was spotted on the council website.
Chris Morley, northern organiser at the National Union of Journalists, told Press Gazette: “Clearly it is very sad that a once great newspaper building – with such a tremendous history – is faced with this but the reality of the situation after a decade of relentless cuts makes it perhaps understandable.
“However, what my members cannot understand is that the managing director talks about his business only as a ‘modern digital marketing services business’.
“I think this perhaps sums up where Newsquest and the major media companies have gone wrong – senior managers wish they were in a different industry and have little affinity for journalism as their business’s bedrock.
“Although the building is important as a symbol of how central and influential local journalism is in the town, I think my members would be delighted if Newsquest used the significant proceeds to properly fund real quality journalism in decent working conditions for staff and still in the heart of the community.”
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