Uni dream one step closer
IPSWICH could be preparing for its largest office shake-up for generations – giving real hope that the town could end up with a university.Suffolk County Council today became the latest major organisation to say it was interested in taking over the half-built TXU headquarters in Russell Road, Ipswich.
By Paul Geater
IPSWICH could be preparing for its largest office shake-up for generations – giving real hope that the town could end up with a university.
Suffolk County Council today became the latest major organisation to say it was interested in taking over the half-built TXU headquarters in Russell Road, Ipswich.
The county is looking at taking over the building as its new corporate headquarters – and believes all its staff could fit in there.
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The move would empty its existing offices in the town centre, allowing them to be taken over by Suffolk College which is keen to expand and pursue its dream of becoming a university.
County councillors are to be told about the possible move at next week's full meeting – and will be asked to give permission for officers to continue the discussions with the administrators handling the sale of the building.
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Officials at County Hall were playing their cards close to their chest today but issued a very short statement: "The county council has held initial discussions with various parties, and the result of these discussions will be outlined in the paper," it said.
"Due to the commercially sensitive nature of the material under consideration, the paper will be discussed under 'Part 2' regulations which exclude the press and public."
However the fact that the negotiations are being discussed by councillors at a full meeting is an indication that concrete proposals have been advanced.
Sources within the Ipswich business community suggest that the building, which was valued at £35 million by TXU before the company collapsed, may be taken over for about £18 million.
That includes the estimated £8 million that would be needed to complete the construction.
The county council would not own the freehold of the building – it would look for someone else to purchase it and lease the buildings.
The East of England Development Agency said today that it had had an approach from both the county council and Ipswich Borough Council about getting involved in the development.
However it was still early days in these discussions.
The move would not be expected to affect council taxpayers, because the county would recoup most – if not all – the cost from the disposal of its existing buildings in the town centre.
The obvious new occupier for these would be Suffolk College, which is next to the county's offices in Rope Walk.
College principal Dave Muller said today the proposals sounded "very interesting," but he had had no discussions with the county about the proposals.
"We are looking to expand and that is why we have considered selling part of this site and moving somewhere else in the town – but it would have to be fairly central.
"These plans are new to me, but they are very interesting and could have a major impact on us," he said.
The College would probably need all the county's existing offices if it was to expand enough to apply for University status.
Building work on the massive office block in Russell Road, which was to house the British headquarters of energy giant TXU, stopped before Christmas after the company collapsed following the sale of its retail business to Pow- ergen.
Since then there has been interest in the half-built office block from several quarters – including Ipswich council.
But today the indications were that the two local authorities would not get involved in a head-to-head scrap for the building.
The Russell Road complex would be too big for the borough council – which would have to rent out part of the space to tenants.
Sources at the borough suggested its interest in the building would only be followed up if it became clear no one else wanted it.
Senior officials at Civic Centre "would be delighted" if the county council moved in, the Star was told.
About 1,300 people are currently employed in offices at County Hall in Ipswich.
These are spread among several different buildings including St Helen Court, where the chief executive and council chamber is based, to St Edmund House, home of the Environment and Transport Department, and St Clare House where the education offices are based.
The TXU offices were designed to hold 800 people, but according to informed sources they would have been very spacious and it would be possible to comfortably make room for 1,200 people.
Among the 1,300 employees at County Hall, many spend most of their working days away from the office, and officials do not feel overcrowding would be a problem.
It is not certain that the county council will move to the offices – the deal would have to be approved by councillors at different stages.
And the Star understands that another organisation is also considering bidding for the half-finished building.
The deal would have to include the multi-storey car park which is already half-completed on the other side of Russell Road.