Councils could spend millions to buy former Aviva office for new HQ

The Horizon Business Centre at the Broadland Business Park.

The Horizon Business Centre at the Broadland Business Park. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

Two Norfolk councils could be about to spend millions to buy a former Aviva office to turn into their replacement headquarters.

South Norfolk Council and Broadland district councils had employed consultants Ingleton Wood and Roche to carry out a review of their accommodation.

That review has been completed and the consultants' recommendation - seen by the EDP - is for the councils to buy Aviva's former offices in the Horizon building at Broadland Business Park.

The Horizon Business Centre at the Broadland Business Park. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The Horizon Business Centre at the Broadland Business Park. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

The current headquarters of the two councils - South Norfolk's offices in Swan Lane, Long Stratton, and Broadland's Thorpe Lodge offices in Yarmouth Road - would be sold, potentially to make way for new homes.

The Horizon building used to be home to Aviva workers, but the insurance company closed it and moved staff back to Surrey House in Norwich earlier this year.

It is on the market, and the consultants said, should it be purchased by another organisation before the councils make a decision, then their fall back recommendation would be for the councils to explore building their own office at Broadland Business Park.

A spokeswoman for Broadland and South Norfolk council said: "Ingleton Wood have now completed their accommodation review and presented their independent business case and recommendation.

"The next step is for members to consider their recommendation at their cabinet meetings in November.

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"Depending on the decisions made at cabinet, subsequent decisions may then be required at full council meetings in December.

"This future accommodation business case sets out to deliver of a number of benefits, including saving taxpayers' money and improving the environmental credentials of the office accommodation, and we look forward to deciding on a future direction for our accommodation needs soon."

The idea of the two councils moving to Norfolk County Council's County Hall site had previously been explored - but that has been ruled out.

John Fuller, leader of South Norfolk Council, said: "Covid has changed the way people work, as has the technology around how people do their work.

South Norfolk Council leader John Fuller

South Norfolk Council leader John Fuller - Credit: Rose Sapey

"It was the right thing to do, to review how council offices are run.

"The consultants have examined all sorts of scenarios and come up with a preliminary recommendation.

"There's more work to be done to consider whether the consultants' preferred scenario stacks up, but, on the face of it, it seems public money could be saved each year and officer teams made significantly more efficient and effective."

Mr Fuller added the Horizon building was carbon neutral - which is not the case for the current council headquarters.

On whether South Norfolk people would be happy with their council's headquarters no longer being in the district, Mr Fuller said staff were increasingly contacting people in their own homes to assist with services, rather than people heading into council offices.

Liberal Democrat councillor Dan Roper

Dan Roper, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Broadland District Council. - Credit: Dan Roper

Dan Roper, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Broadland District Council, said: "The report needs to be examined by councillors and questions asked, one of them being the impact on residents."

Analysis

The document about the consultants' conclusions, which was sent to the EDP, had a printed label attached to it.

It stated: "In the interests of residents of South Norfolk and Broadland, this document should be in the public domain. This is unitary via the back door."

Broadland and South Norfolk councils have shared a single team of officers since 2020, but the word 'merger' has been studiously avoided.

But that has not stopped discontent.

At a recent meeting of Broadland full council, some councillors, across the political divide, reported difficulties in contacting suitable officers.

They questioned the quality of services being provided since the single team was created.

And this all comes against a backdrop of the prospect of local government reorganisation and the possibility that Norfolk could be offered a devolution deal in the future.

As yet, it is not clear what model that would take, but the scars from previous bids for unitary status - which could have seen some councils abolished - run deep.

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