NEARLY 500 council staff will not now be relocated this year to the long-awaited Friargate first tower block near Coventry station – to enable the first private sector tenant to move in instead, the Coventry Observer can exclusively reveal.
The eleventh-hour changes for the much delayed scheme raise further questions over the planned second and third tower blocks, and funding for the entire 37-acre business park of 25 buildings, earmarked for up to “15,000 jobs” more than a decade ago.
Under the proposed new deal to be discussed by Coventry City Council’s ruling Labour cabinet next Tuesday (January 24), the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) will occupy two-and-a-half floors of the first 11-storey tower block (‘Friargate One’) – renting the space from the council – when it opens in August this year.
RICS – which will relocate from Westwood Business Park in Coventry – has for at least four years been earmarked as tenants of the planned second tower block.
But the Coventry Observer revealed in November ongoing delays in securing RICS for the second tower block on a pre-let basis, casting doubts on previous plans to build it speculatively without first securing a tenant.
We also revealed last month delays in the award of £50million for Friargate from the West Midlands Combined Authority, when it revealed only £100million of £150million – pledged as part of a ‘devolution deal’ with government – had so far been secured.
The last-ditch changes now mean 470 of the 1830 council staff who were expected to relocate from other city centre council buildings to Friargate in August will stay behind – including at Broadgate House which the council had planned to exit but will now need to be refurbished.
The relocation of staff from other civic buildings – including those sold to Coventry University – will go ahead.
Councillor Jim O’Boyle, cabinet member for jobs and regeneration, told us: “We are in constant dialogue with Friargate over their issues around financing.”
Of the future for the second building and the rest of the scheme, he said: “We want to make sure there are tenants available to move in. It’s a chicken and egg situation. If we have no tenant, we are building speculatively.
“The report to cabinet next Tuesday proposes pressing ahead with a decision to offer two-and-a-half floors in the council building to RICS.”
He said discussions would also be sought to ‘draw down’ the £50million from the combined authority identified for Friargate, to enable the rest of the scheme to move forward.
He added: “At the moment, it’s not moving as we’d like it to. Everybody recognises the importance of the scheme. To do nothing is not an option. But to keep doing the same thing is not an option either.”
It had been hoped in 2013 under the council’s previous leadership that moving council staff into the first tower block would be a ‘honey pot’ for private investors, in the words of council chief executive Martin Reeves.
The late changes would at least at last secure the first private sector tenants, under council leader George Duggins who took over from Ann Lucas last May and pledged to review progress on Friargate.