New questions over cost of Landmark House deal

IPSWICH: The county council’s purchase of Landmark House on the edge of the town could be referred to the authority’s audit committee, after The Evening Star unearthed fresh questions about the purchase.

We have established that a developer was prepared to design and build a new office block for the county council and the Suffolk Police Authority on land off Whitehouse Road for less than �7million.

This land is currently occupied by offices rented by the county council – and a building which was previously a play centre.

We also understand that the county and police authority are paying between �3.5m and �4m for Landmark House – and are then expecting to pay in the region of �7.5m to refurbish it.

The exact figures for the purchase and refurbishment of Landmark House remain confidential, but businesses involved in alternative proposals were left feeling that the police and county were determined to go ahead with the purchase of Landmark House.

It is understood that councillors were told the cost of the alternative proposal would be �13m – although documents from the companies concerned suggested it would be about half that figure.

In one letter to the county council towards the end of the tendering process, one of the firms wrote: “As I have advised you, we are disappointed and a little frustrated that we were never allowed to properly engage with either SCC (Suffolk County Council) or SPA (Suffolk Police Authority) to ensure our proposals and the alternative options available were sufficiently discussed to enable a fair and proper comparison to be made.”

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Suffolk County Council deputy leader Jane Storey refused to discuss any of the figures while they remain confidential.

She said: “We are still going through the tendering process on this, so I cannot comment on any figures. However I can say we were aware of other bids at the time of the Landmark House decision.”

Labour group leader Sandy Martin said he had found it difficult to understand the county’s decision to go ahead with the purchase and refurbishment of Landmark House.

He said: “I’ve seen the figures and I can’t see how they can be justified.

“It would have been cheaper to demolish Landmark House and start again so far as I can see.

“Local authorities and other public bodies have a duty to spend money wisely – especially at a time like this – and I think we should look long and hard at this.”

Mr Martin said he would consider calling for a referral to the county’s audit committee.

Liberal Democrat resources spokesman Andrew Cann is also proposing to refer the deal to the audit committee.

He said: “I am not allowed to discuss the figures because they remain on the confidential section of the agenda, but I have concerns and I shall be referring the matter to the audit committee and possibly on to other relevant bodies.”

n Is the Landmark House purchase a good deal for the council? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or you can send an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk