Swaffham's Green Britain Centre sold to international business as talks with town council fall through
A town council's efforts to secure a vacant building as a community asset have fallen through as the site has been sold to an expanding international business.
Breckland Council has announced the sale of the Green Britain Centre in Swaffham this afternoon, which the authority says has ended months of uncertainty over the Turbine Way site's future.
The building, which has been closed since January 2019, had been part of discussions between Swaffham Town Council and Breckland with a potential land swap involving Days Field on the table.
But Breckland has now decided to look elsewhere, and have said the decision will create dozens of new jobs in the town.
The name of the business which has purchased the building has not been revealed at this stage.
It has been operational for more than 25 years and is now looking to expand. It will bring 25 existing staff to the site initially, with plans to create as many as 65 new posts in the next few years.
It comes after the town council had agreed to proceed with the legal due diligence, additional feasibility study and public consultation, subject to conditions, during an extraordinary meeting in December.
But Breckland subsequently responded to an "exciting offer" by the international business between the Christmas breaks. A meeting took place between the two councils earlier today to explain why the sale has gone through.
It means the building will not become a sports and leisure provision as the town council had hoped.
But Swaffham's Breckland councillor Ian Sherwood is confident a facility can be secured for the town this year, potentially in a quicker time than the due diligence with the town council would have taken.
Mr Sherwood said: "As a representative of the community of Swaffham, I believe this is good news for the town, bringing in new jobs. I believe a sports and leisure provision will probably be easier than what it would have been at the Green Britain Centre, which would have been incredibly complicated.
"Let's remember Swaffham Town Council had not made a formal decision to go ahead with it. This now makes it much quicker and easier to secure a sport and leisure provision and I hope it can be finalised in the first quarter of this year.
"Myself and my Breckland colleague Ed Colman will be pressing to get that decision from Mark Robinson (executive member for community, leisure and culture). Breckland still made the commitment for sport and leisure provision, but the GBC will be used for employment and investment in the town."
Mr Sherwood added that the town council has not lost input into the leisure and sport provision because of the GBC sale.
Breckland councillor Paul Hewett, executive member for contracts and assets, said: “We’re delighted to have secured a great deal to sell the Green Britain Centre, which will not only generate funding for reinvestment back into Swaffham but will bring a brand new business to Breckland and create dozens of new jobs.”
“Naturally, we’re disappointed that after more than 18 months of discussions with Swaffham Town Council, we were unable to make the proposed land swap work.
"But, the opportunity to bring immediate inward investment and jobs in to the town – at these challenging times – was too great to miss."
Swaffham's Breckland and county councillor Ed Colman added: “While it is disappointing that the proposed asset swap with Swaffham Town Council will not now go ahead, I warmly welcome the news that jobs will be created as the result of a business potentially moving into the town.
“The sale will also allow reinvestment into the town and I look forward to discussing what this investment looks like and how it can be used to benefit Swaffham.
“This isn’t the end of Breckland’s plan to improve leisure facilities in the town, far from it, we all remain committed to ensuring the leisure offering in Swaffham is fit for purpose and reflects the needs of our residents.”
Residents4Residents councillor Graham Edwards had expressed doubt over the feasibility of the land swap, raising question marks over how the council would have financed the GBC and found a suitable tenant.
Mr Edwards suggested the project would have created a financial burden on the Swaffham taxpayer if the land swap had gone ahead, believing the precept would have increased for residents as a consequence.
His fellow Residents4Residents councillor Ian Pilcher said he was relieved by the news the building has been purchased by an international business.
Mr Pilcher said: "This relief is by no means a selfish approach to the whole saga of due diligence and research, but endorses my frequently expressed concern that the whole project was a step too far for the capabilities of a 'parish' council and was so much more suited to district or even county levels.
"It is too immediate to say much about the way forward as yet, but the reference by Breckland Council to creating funds for further support of amenities within Swaffham, must be greeted with acclaim and appreciation.
"One very positive feature is that the projected new investors will be bringing immediate and, then expanded, job opportunities within the community.
"That really is a desirable threshold, because each of those individuals may come to live in Swaffham and, at very least, will very likely be spending revenues in local services."
The 220ft wind turbine adjacent to the Green Britain Centre will remain in place for the foreseeable future.