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University in Sufffolk a step closer

PUBLISHED: 05:42 18 January 2003 | UPDATED: 16:12 24 February 2010

A MULTI-million pound deal to transfer Suffolk County Council headquarters to the half-built TXU building near Portman Road in Ipswich could be an important step towards establishing a university for Suffolk.

A MULTI-million pound deal to transfer Suffolk County Council headquarters to the half-built TXU building near Portman Road in Ipswich could be an important step towards establishing a university for Suffolk.

Under a move being discussed behind closed doors, the council would move from its historic County Hall headquarters and transfer 1,300 corporate staff to the TXU building next to Ipswich Town Football Club.

This would free many buildings adjacent to Suffolk College which could form part of a university campus.

"This is great and exciting news," said James Hehir, chief executive of Ipswich Borough Council, who has been working in close co-operation with county officials on the planning aspects of the massive relocation from St Helen's Street.

Although the county council is reluctant to comment in detail, officers and councillors believe the opportunity to acquire new headquarters at a knock-down price is too good to pass up.

Not only will the relocation solve the authority's office accommodation problem, it will enable Suffolk College to expand in anticipation of it receiving university status.

Following the collapse of energy giant TXU in the autumn, the company's administrators have been looking to sell the massive New Russell House offices in Russell Road, planned to be the flagship of the Ipswich Village development.

The County Council insists the commercial sensitivity of any deal – acquiring a £40million headquarters for under £20millon – means it will make no detailed public announcement on the proposed move until after Thursday's full meeting of the county council.

However, Ipswich's chief executive Mr Hehir was not so reticent, describing it as "great and exciting news" for Ipswich.

"The borough council fully supports this move. It is the perfect solution to the problem of the TXU headquarters, will be an integral part of the regeneration of central Ipswich, and will free up the existing county hall for the expansion of Suffolk College and the creation of a university," said Mr Hehir.

"I couldn't be happier. The borough council has been working on the Ipswich Village plans for two years and this would be a tremendous move for the county council."

Mr Hehir said the borough, which itself is anxious to move from its own civic centre offices, had been prepared to consider occupying a third of New Russell House before the county council declared its interest.

A spokesman for the county said: "County councillors will be debating a paper at next week's full council meeting on opportunities presented by New Russell House, the building formerly under construction as TXU Energi's new headquarters.

"The county council has held initial discussions with various parties, and the result of these discussions will be outlined in the paper.

"Due to the commercially sensitive nature of the material under consideration, the paper will be discussed under "Part 2" regulations that exclude the press and public."

However, a council insider said: "It is fair to say that it would not have reached this stage unless we were seriously considering quitting."

The transformation of the north bank of the River Orwell has been ongoing since the mid 1990s. It encompasses the rebuilding of Ipswich Town's Portman Road stadium, the Ipswich Village complex with offices and a new hotel, the Cardinal Park entertainment centre including the multi screen UCG cinema, a new marina in the Wet Dock, and waterside hotels, housing, restaurants and a technology college.

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