County Council bids for new HQ
SUFFOLK County Council could move into former energy company TXU's £35million building in Ipswich in the next 14 months, it emerged last night.But county councillors admitted they did not have a buyer for the existing County Hall, in St Helen's Street.
By Graham Dines
SUFFOLK County Council could move into former energy company TXU's £35million building in Ipswich in the next 14 months, it emerged last night.
But county councillors admitted they did not have a buyer for the existing County Hall, in St Helen's Street.
A full meeting of the authority gave unanimous backing to the start of negotiations with the administrators of TXU, which is urgently seeking a buyer for New Russell House, originally planned as a state of the art complex in the Ipswich Village development near Portman Road.
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Work stopped on the building in the autumn when the UK assets of TXU Europe were taken over by energy rivals Powergen.
After Suffolk County Council publicly declared its hand last night, Jane Hore, its leader, said: "We understand others are in talks with the administrators. Whether that is a commercial ploy, we have no way of knowing."
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She said the council realised the opportunity of obtaining a state-of-the-art high quality headquarters at a discount was too good to pass up.
Now that the go-ahead has been given for negotiations to start, the county council can start looking for a buyer for County Hall. But while the site would be ideal for an expanded Suffolk College, there is no guarantee that a deal will go through.
Asked what would happen if the council concluded negotiations for New Russell House without finding a buyer for County Hall, Miss Hore said the exit strategy "is part of the further thinking we have to got do."
Pressed if Suffolk County Council could end up owning New Russell House and a disused County Hall at the same time, Miss Hore said: "Hopefully not."
She added: "We moved with commercial speed once we realised New Russell House was on the market. The opportunity to move to a new building presents clear advantages and benefits to the wider community and the county council.
"The nature of these discussions means they are subject to a high degree of commercial confidentiality. But we now have a real opportunity to improve the way we work and connect with residents and obviously we are keen to take advantage of the benefits this move presents."
The poor quality of the existing complex in St Helen's Street, one of the most prominent buildings in Ipswich, with its offices spread between a converted Victorian court house and post war office blocks, has been recognised by councillors of all political parties, but the huge cost to council tax payers of buying land and building a new headquarters would have been astronomical.
Taking over a partially constructed building for what would be a knock-down price was an opportunity "too good to miss," said Miss Hore.
The County Council would be contributing to the regeneration and revitalisation of Ipswich, a key policy and objective of the authority.
Liberal Democrat leader Peter Monk and Tory leader Jeremy Pembroke gave their backing to the start of negotiations which will start immediately with the administrators.
If all goes to plan, Suffolk County Council's new corporate headquarters will be occupied by the 1,300 central staff by the end of the next financial year, March 31 2004.