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Revealed: How council gave away £500,000 eco-centre for free

PUBLISHED: 07:43 24 June 2019 | UPDATED: 07:43 24 June 2019

The opening of The Cube in 2012. Picture: Denise Bradley

The opening of The Cube in 2012. Picture: Denise Bradley

Archant

Questions are being asked of council bosses over why they gave away the lease of a £500,000 business centre for nothing.

The Eco Cube building on the Rackheath Industrial Estate which Broadland Council spent £500,000 on constructing, equipping and leasing but then handed it to the firm which built it for nothing. Photo: ArchantThe Eco Cube building on the Rackheath Industrial Estate which Broadland Council spent £500,000 on constructing, equipping and leasing but then handed it to the firm which built it for nothing. Photo: Archant

Broadland Council spent £340,000 building and leasing the 'The Cube' on Rackheath Industrial Estate in 2012, plus another £160,000 in costs.

The building was meant to train and inspire students about green projects.

But by 2017, the project had failed and the building lay empty.

Council chiefs decided, behind closed doors, to end their lease, handing it over to the company which built it and owned the freehold, Tilia Properties, for nothing.

At that point the council still had 20 years left on the lease, including five years rent free.

The council said in a report in 2017 it was handing it over because the building cost £18,000 a year to run and it could not find a tenant.

But within weeks of surrendering the lease, Tilia Properties found a new tenant. The company declined to comment.

The affair is now being looked at by a panel from the council's overview and scrutiny committee.

Broadland District Council said it was unable to answer any questions at this time on The Cube. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYBroadland District Council said it was unable to answer any questions at this time on The Cube. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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But chairman of the panel, Grant Nurden, said their report into The Cube was delayed, with council officers and councillors drafting different versions neither of which he was happy with.

Frank O'Neill, a retired commercial property solicitor, who was on the panel, said: "The failure to exercise due diligence and recover any money for council taxpayers on abandoning the building is unforgivable.

"If they had been about their business they could have got a much better deal."

He said the council could have either sold the lease or rented the building, rather than give it up.

In 2017, a report signed by then Broadland chief executive Phil Kirby said the building failed because schools were not prepared to pay to use it.

It was then let until February 2017 but no tenant could be found after that date.

Mr Kirby gave the council two options - surrender the lease or "any other appropriate course of action".

We asked the council why the lease was surrendered, what the value was of that lease and why the decision was made without wider consultation.

Trevor Holden, managing director, said they were unable to comment until after the panel had finished its report.

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