County Hall move 'by end of the year'

SUFFOLK could have a new County Hall by the end of the year.And the deal to take over the new offices built for TXU could be agreed by the end of this month.

By Paul Geater

SUFFOLK could have a new County Hall by the end of the year.

And the deal to take over the new offices built for TXU could be agreed by the end of this month.

The move is to be discussed by county councillors on Thursday in a behind-closed-doors session at County Hall.

Indications are that the politicians will be looking for firm details – but most are sympathetic to the proposals.

The concerns stem from the fact this could be a rush to bail out a project that has ground to a halt – but these are outweighed by the prospect of seizing a once in a generation opportunity to get a prestigious headquarters at a knock-down price.

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Ipswich council chief executive James Hehir said today that negotiations about the building had to be "fast-tracked" to prevent any deterioration in equipment already installed.

"The building is not yet weather-tight, and it is vital that work restarts soon to protect it and ensure that the warranties on equipment there do not expire," he said.

"This project involves the county council, ourselves and the East of England Development Agency.

"The county is discussing the situation this week and we are expecting to be in a position to go back to the administrators and settle the deal very soon," he said.

Mr Hehir said it was vital to get the details sewn up and was confident the deal involving both local authorities and EEDA would go through very soon.

The headquarters could be bought for a total of about £18 million – just over half its "paper value" of £35 million.

Other groups had expressed an interest in taking over the building, but there are fears within the Ipswich business community that some of these are more speculative.

"What that area needs is a firm commitment – what the town doesn't need is for a developer to buy the offices and then mothball them until the economy turns up," said one business leader.

If the county does complete the deal, it is estimated it would take about three months to complete work on the fabric of the building – and then about another six months to fit it out ready for business.

"The county council could be in there by the end of the calendar year," said Mr Hehir.

And the new county hall could also provide a home for some multi-agency offices, leading to some borough council employees having offices there.

"This will be a major boost to the area and combined with the development of the car park site next to Kartouche should kick-start the whole Ipswich Village project," Mr Hehir said.

The county's move, as exclusively revealed in the Evening Star, would free the way for Suffolk College to move into the current offices in Rope Walk and St Helen's Street.

That would give the college a major boost and would improve its chances of taking a major step towards its long-cherished ambition of achieving university status.