By Jupiter! Is Whitehall considering a move to Fisher’s Folly?

A government department is looking to move into a 250,000 square foot office building in East Croydon, according to reports in the commercial property trade press this week.

Fisher's Folly: Built at a cost of £144 million, plus £85m interest payments, the council's head offices seem likely to be a drag on borough finances for years to come

Fisher’s Folly: Built at a cost of £144 million, plus £85m interest payments, the council’s head offices could be a drag on borough finances for years to come

And the only relatively new office block in the vicinity offering that amount of floor space is… Fisher’s Folly.

According to the commercial property website CoStar, agents GVA have this week been given instructions by an unnamed government department to find a 250,000 sq ft headquarters building in East Croydon.

Fisher’s Folly offers 240,000 sq ft of floor space.

Commissioned by the previous Conservative Town Hall administration under Mike #WadGate Fisher, and officially known as Bernard Weatherill House, the council offices were opened in October 2013. Croydon Council paid £144million for its headquarters building – which is about £100million more than similar-sized office builds elsewhere in London have cost.

This “cornerstone project” of the disastrous CCURV urban regeneration joint venture with John Laing therefore works out as having been more expensive to build than The Shard.

Since Labour took control of the council last May, they have been seeking to rent out whole floors of the poorly finished and overpriced council offices. Interest from Roehampton University has waned, according to sources on Cost A Mint Walk, due to uncertainty over course income from foreign students.

If Croydon can’t attract hundreds of students to base themselves in the centre of town, thousands of slightly less impecunious civil servants might be even better for revitalising the local economy.

Croydon has been identified by the government as one of the locations it can readily relocate departments from Whitehall in a cost-cutting drive. Trouble is, those discussions have been going on since before the ConDem coalition took office in 2010, with little concrete achievement since.

But GVA are serious players in the commercial property market, and according to CoStar this relocation task is significant enough to have been given its very own self-important codename: “Operation Jupiter”.

The Home Office already has a presence in Croydon at 1970s blocks Lunar House and Apollo House.

Developers Stanhope have plans for new offices at East Croydon, but need an anchor tenant to go ahead and build them

Developers Stanhope have plans for new offices at East Croydon, but need an anchor tenant to go ahead and build them

Despite Croydon’s reputation for office blocks, duly earned through the developments along the urban motorway of Wellesley Road in the 1960s, there is little modern office space available in the town centre. Nestle, previously the borough’s largest employers, quit Croydon in 2012 when the council failed to find a suitable alternative to its ageing  tower block, which still stands, empty, like a multi-storey tombstone over the town’s fortunes.

That lack of suitable office accommodation could now see Croydon Council effectively competing for the government contract with commercial developers, who have been unwilling to commit high finance to key sites since the global economic crash of 2008.

The sheer scale of the government requirement is particularly demanding: for example, Renaissance Croydon (opened in 2013 and already fully let), has some modern, low-rent offices overlooking East Croydon from Dingwall Road. But the whole building, at 100,000 sq ft, would provide less than half the floor space required.

The Hammersfield redevelopment in central Croydon will include extensive office space – the Whitgift Centre’s offices previously accommodated government departments – but building work cannot commence until later this year and seems unlikely to be ready before the end of the decade.

Ruskin Square, right next to East Croydon Station, has planning permission for a suitable development on the prestigious gateway site and its developers would be ready to go if they had a suitable anchor tenant. But Stanhope suggest that the government’s relocation agency, after previous interest, have not been in contact.

Which sort of leaves Fisher’s Folly as the only ready-to-go option for any government department, potentially thrusting Croydon Council into the commercial property business.

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3 Responses to By Jupiter! Is Whitehall considering a move to Fisher’s Folly?

  1. HMG will be looking for the lowest possible rent, so could council tax payers end up making a loss on any deal; paying more in repayment charges than they receive from their tenants?

    If we had a council with backbone it would challenge the initial development costs, refusing to pay the grossly inflated price and challenging its CCURV partners to justify their Mickey Mouse figures in public. But that would take courage and we’re stuck with Tony Newman and his cronies.

  2. mandolin456 says:

    The wrong planet surely! it should have been named after the seventh planet from the Sun.

  3. Of course, in the end, Gav will say it was all his idea (once he gets to hear about, that is) and it is wacky and silly enough to be.

    Perhaps he will launch a petition to get Whitehall to move to Croydon en bloc, all into Whitgift properties like soon to doomed to be vacant Hammersfield.

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