Wetherspoon hopes for North Walsham ‘in jeopardy’
Hopes of a Wetherspoon's pub in North Walsham are 'in jeopardy' after a major setback in negotiations.
The NHS has rejected a cash offer from North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) for a building which would have unlocked a final deal with the pub giant.
JD Wetherspoon wants to buy and convert NNDC's offices on New Road, North Walsham, in a £1.6m project which would create 50 jobs.
NNDC had planned to move its tenants - including North Walsham Town Council - out of New Road so that the deal could be clinched.
District officers have been negotiating with the NHS to buy the former doctors' surgery and health centre on Northfield Road as a new home for the ousted town council, North Norfolk Community Transport and Citizens Advice Bureau.
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But town councillors heard on Tuesday that talks had stalled.
District councillor Nigel Lloyd told the meeting: 'We have been advised that the offer made by NNDC to the NHS to purchase the property in Northfield Road has been declined.'
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NNDC had asked North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb to intervene but he had been told the NHS had to achieve the market rate for the building and the council had not offered enough.
'It does place the whole vision of NNDC in some jeopardy,' said Mr Lloyd. 'We are concerned. Expectations in the town have been raised to quite a high level. The feedback I get is that they all want it (Wetherspoon's arrival) to happen.'
He believed the Heads of Terms agreement between NNDC and Wetherspoon's included an expectation that the New Road offices would be vacant by December 31.
District officers calculate they would need to spend about £150,000 re-fitting and decorating the Northfield Road building and their offer to the NHS is understood to have taken that cost into account.
Mr Lloyd added: 'Personally, I think it's quite naive to think the NHS, which is just as strapped for cash as everybody else, would accept some deal below market value.'
Fellow district councillor Eric Seward told town councillors that the district's offer would have been based on a 'business case' - working out how much they would need to spend on the building against the likely income from renting to tenants.
After the meeting Mr Seward said he understood the NHS would put the building on the open market in the New Year if NNDC could not come up with an acceptable offer. It could prove popular with developers who might want to demolish it and build homes on the site.
Councillor John Rest, NNDC cabinet member with responsibility for assets, said: 'As with any negotiations there is a need to see what deal can be struck which meets the needs of the seller and the purchaser. We believe there is a great opportunity to develop the site and remain focused on that goal. At this stage it wouldn't be appropriate to comment in detail on the negotiations in the media but we remain hopeful that the solution outlined is one that the NHS will find attractive.'
'We remain focused on proceeding with the sale of the North Walsham council offices to JD Wetherspoon and will explore all options available to enable this to happen.'