County comes up with Landmark answers

IPSWICH: Nearly four months after the Evening Star began asking questions about the controversial county council deal to buy Landmark House on the edge of Ipswich, the first meaningful answers have emerged.

The �12million purchase was discussed by the county’s finance scrutiny committee yesterday when details of the deal were picked over by councillors from all parties.

A debate surfaced when the Star revealed that the county and Suffolk Police Authority were paying out for Landmark House in Whitehouse Road, near the town’s main Asda store, while another developer, Artisan, had offered to design and build on a nearby site for about half that cost.

However, county council director of resource management, Graham Dixon, said the two alternative proposals were not comparable.

He said: “The Artisan proposal was not fit for purpose for what we were seeking to do with this development. It would have required many more millions to be spent on it to bring it up to standard.

“Frankly it was like someone knowing they needed new transport for the family going out and buying a two-seater sports car.”

He added that the Landmark House site would allow county council and police staff to be on the same site – and there would still be space for other organisations to rent space as well.

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The fiercest critic of the proposal has been Liberal Democrat finance spokesman Andrew Cann who called for the meeting to discuss the sale.

He accepted some of the points raised by Mr Dixon, but still had fundamental concerns.

He said: “I feel that we still do not know whether the Landmark House deal is good for the county – and I am sure the timing is not right.

“We are going ahead with the purchase without knowing whether anyone else will come in with the police and the county council and before knowing exactly how the comprehensive spending review and new strategic direction at the county will change things.”

Mr Dixon said the deal would save the county council �500,000 a year – but if major public bodies could be persuaded to rent space in either Landmark House or St Edmund House the value to the council and the police would increase substantially.

He said the two bodies had paid �3.5m for Landmark House which included a 240-space car park and a further 3.5 acres which could be developed later if more public sector bodies wanted to move in.

At the end of the meeting, the committee said it was “generally in agreement that the Landmark House deal was, on balance, purchased in a deal to protect the interests of the county council.”

Mr Dixon told the meeting that the new buildings were needed, although the council was contracting in size as it looked to “divest” its services to outside bodies.

He said: “At the end of this, we will still have 35 per cent less space than we have now.”

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