Breckland council says multi-million pound investment partnership could create 1,200 jobs

PUBLISHED: 09:49 30 October 2013 | UPDATED: 11:47 31 October 2013

Breckland Council. Picture: Ian Burt

Breckland Council. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant © 2013

“Global players” are being encouraged to invest millions of pounds in a project which would see the creation of 1,200 jobs across Breckland in the next 20 years.

Core sites for first five years

-Attleborough: Victory Park and Haverscroft Industrial Estate –179 new jobs to be created with car repairs, car sales, DIY trade as well as a supermarket and a pub. Worth £12.4m when completed.

-Thetford: Old Maltings and New Maltings – 10 new homes to be created when the buildings are converted in to houses. Worth £1.1m when completed.

-Thetford: Riverside, Bridge Street – 83 new jobs to be created with a hotel, cinema, food and retail spaces as well as a car park. Worth £5.6m when completed.

-Mileham: Burghwood Drive – 11 new homes. Worth £1.6m when completed.

-Banham: Gaymer Close – 32 new homes. Worth £5.4m when completed.

-Shipdham: Chapel Street – 30 new homes. Worth £5.3m when completed.

-Litcham: Wellington Road – 35 new homes. Worth £5.5m when completed.

-Kenninghall: Powell close – 15 new homes. Worth £2.3m when completed.

Once all 28 core sites are finished, Breckland Council estimates they will be worth around £150m.

The district council wants a commercial partner to put down a multi-million pound figure to refurbish and develop the authority’s properties and land which they say will generate cash to protect front line services.

The council, which owns 188 commercial properties in places including Dereham, Watton, Swaffham, Thetford and Attleborough, has identified eight priority assets to be worked on in the next five years and a further 20 assets over the next two decades.

The scheme, called a local asset backed vehicle (LABV), combines private sector money and skills with public sector assets such as property and land to accelerate growth in the area and increase the financial return to the council.

By developing leisure, retail and housing the council expects to create 262 jobs and 133 homes in the district in the next five years and 492 homes and 1,268 jobs over the next 15 to 20.

The authority hopes the partnership will maintain and increase the money it makes from its properties, and therefore prevent the need for service cuts or council tax increases.

Steve Udberg, Breckland’s head of property and assets and LABV project manager, said: “This is particularly important in the context that the commercial property income supports frontline services and keeps council tax down.

“Having looked at the commercial and property portfolio it was showing that it is well maintained. But we were seeing within it some of the properties are ageing in character and therefore we are looking forward.”

One of the first LABVs to be launched in the country was a joint venture between Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and developers John Laing. It was accused of secrecy and hiding behind “commercial sensitivity”.

The partnership drew controversy in 2011 when it was criticised for the way the project was handled, delays, and worries that decisions were made away from the public eye.

Eleanor McGrath, from the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said when budgets were tight, local people were right to be cautiously optimistic about Breckland’s scheme.

She said: “While this sort of deal may well end up delivering extremely good value for the taxpayer, it’s essential that the council is transparent about the tendering process and gets the best deal possible for local residents.”

Thetford’s riverside area has been highlighted as a priority project for the project.

The council wants to redevelop around Bridge Street building a hotel, cinema, car park, and a food and retail space creating 83 jobs.

Other ideas in the 20-year plan is for 40pc of the Cherry Tree car park in Dereham to be developed with five houses and Swaffham’s Theatre Street car park to have the same amount.

Terry Jermy, leader of the opposition in Breckland, said he had “mixed views” on the scheme.

“The principal of using Breckland’s assets to the best possible means is a really good. No one would say we want less money coming in,” he said.

“But the devil is always in the detail. We [Breckland Labour Group] think there should be a very thorough consultation with the public.

“Breckland can be a little untransparent in its dealings. But it’s an asset rich council and it has got to manage its assets properly.”

The council insists there are strong safeguards, including legal ones, in place for Breckland to be protected if the partnership fails.

But changes in market conditions could result in higher development costs and lower residential or commercial values could restrict the profits.

Mark Kiddle-Morris, Breckland’s executive member for assets and strategic development, said the investment for a private company is still a good one because of the diverse nature of the authority’s property portfolio.

He said: “We want as much income out of our property portfolio as we can.

“So we are getting a private sector partner to invest in Breckland. We want global players.

“The key thing is the district will get things done which might not have been done had we not gone down this route.

“New houses, employment, retail and leisure space and more than 1,000 new jobs – that’s an exciting prospect for the whole of Breckland – and it could be bigger than that.

“There will be a lot of projects that we as a council couldn’t have taken forward. But with a partnership we can.”

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