Six-figure sum spent on security at this former council HQ 'eyesore'
PUBLISHED: 08:06 02 March 2019 | UPDATED: 09:58 02 March 2019
A six-figure sum of taxpayers' money has been spent on security at a Suffolk council's old headquarters amid growing concerns about its stalled redevelopment.
Suffolk Coastal District Council (SCDC) moved out of its Melton Hill offices in Woodbridge three years ago for a new £3.9m site at Riduna Park in Melton.
The move was hoped to save £8m over 20 years through cheaper running costs. But SCDC has been left with significant expenses from the old site, after its sale faltered amid planning problems.
Active Urban Property Group (AUPG) won the bid to redevelop the site in January 2016 and its application for 100 new homes – described by some opponents as looking like “cheese wedges” – was given provisional approval by SCDC’s planning committee in October 2017.
But AUPG submitted a revised application in 2018 seeking to reduce the number of affordable homes, which was refused last November.
AUPG had six months to appeal the decision. Meanwhile, the future of the site remains uncertain, the old buildings have suffered repeated vandalism and SCDC cannot finalise the sale until planning permission is granted.
Freedom of Information (FOI) requests show SCDC has spent £63,166 on security so far in 2018/19 and has budgeted a further £90,000 for 2019/20. A separate FOI shows it spent £82,126 on security in 2017/18, when the total costs of running and maintaining the site were £257,491, including £153,729 business rates.
Michael Holland who lives nearby, said the council’s handling of the move had been shocking.
“Three years after selecting a preferred bidder for the redevelopment, the council has achieved absolutely nothing,” he said.
“Nothing has been approved; we’re still waiting for a new application or an appeal to come along.
“Meanwhile there are older people in the area and it must be quite disturbing to see windows being smashed, boarded up buildings and metal shutters – it looks like an eyesore.”
Mr Holland said SCDC had “once again been left at the mercy of developers”.
Caroline Page, who represents Woodbridge at Suffolk County Council, said she was “very distressed” about the situation.
“There’s a huge need for affordable housing in Woodbridge and the surrounding area, and this is the ideal site,” she said,
“It’s owned by the people of Suffolk Coastal and should be developed for the people of Suffolk Coastal. This really needs to be settled as soon as possible.”
AUPG’s revised application included a request for Vacant Building Credit, which can be applied to sites left unused for a long time and reduces affordable housing requirements to encourage development on brownfield sites.
Although SCDC refused the application in November, Ms Page said she feared the ongoing delays and deterioration of the buildings may be used to argue the Vacant Building Credit should be applied. She said it would be “perverse” if this happened.
An SCDC spokesman said: “It is disappointing to see that some mindless idiots have chosen to vandalise our old offices at Melton Hill.
“Whilst we are playing our part by investing in security patrols, we would appeal local people to play their part in keeping the building safe. If anyone sees anything suspicious at the site, please contact the police immediately.”
AUPG was invited to comment.