Insurer's vote of confidence in Suffolk

INSURANCE group AXA yesterday gave a £10million vote of confidence in its future in Ipswich, where it currently employs 1,200 people. AXA is to go ahead with the renovation and refurbishment of Suffolk House, which stands alongside its existing offices in Civic Drive and which has been vacant since former tenant TXU Energi collapsed into administration two years ago.

INSURANCE group AXA yesterday gave a £10million vote of confidence in its future in Ipswich, where it currently employs 1,200 people.

AXA is to go ahead with the renovation and refurbishment of Suffolk House, which stands alongside its existing offices in Civic Drive and which has been vacant since former tenant TXU Energi collapsed into administration two years ago.

The insurer - which besides operating under its own brand provides insurance services on behalf of organisations such as Lloyds TSB, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury's - says the increase in office space will open the way for future expansion in the town.

Suffolk House was AXA's original home in Ipswich when predecessor Guardian Royal Exchange established a presence in the town in the 1970s.

The larger building the group now occupies, with its distinctive curved frontage, was added later and is still often referred to, at least by longer-serving members of staff, as “the extension”.

Besides refurbishing Suffolk House - currently shrouded in scaffolding because its cladding is unsafe - AXA plans to improve the connecting links between the two buildings, with the combined complex to be given a new name, yet to be decided.

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Until now, the freehold of Suffolk House has been owned by Ipswich Borough Council, with AXA holding a long lease on the site, but the council has now agreed to sell the building outright - paving the way for AXA's investment

AXA customer relations director Andy Fairchild said: “At present we have staff at a number of different locations in Ipswich. By bringing this building back into use we can all be on the one site.

“We have already announced we are taking on an extra 130 people to deal with new business and we are hoping to continue to increase the number of people here. There are seven storeys here, and we need four of those to be occupied straight away.

“The other three will be brought into use as and when they are needed, but the exterior will all be completely repaired and restored from the outset. We want to be very proud of our headquarters.”

Borough council chief executive James Hehir said of the deal: “This shows that a major international company wants to invest in a town that is really going places.

“We have 18,000 new homes being built here and we want to provide good jobs for the people who are going to live there. AXA is a very significant employer for the town and it is very good that they want to expand here.

“From the council's point of view this will give us a substantial capital receipt which will help our financial situation and allow us to move forward. There are some further major developments taking shape over the next few years with the move to our new headquarters, the redevelopment of the Civic Centre site and the further developments in Ipswich Village.”