'Taxpayer cash wasted' on £3.3m Earls Barton building crime commissioner never used
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The office of Northamptonshire’s police, fire and crime commissioner stands to make a loss on a garage workshop that has sat empty for more than two years.
Police boss Stephen Mold was told by his staff there were “no significant disadvantages or risks” before his office bought the £3.3m unit in February 2021, it can be revealed.
Mr Mold was told the Earls Barton site was an “exact match” for what the county’s fire service and police needed so vehicles could be fixed and serviced in one place.
By the end of 2022, potential costs of refitting it had spiralled to a reported £16m and the project was stopped.
An advert online calls for offers “in the region” of £3.5m for the complex in Baron Avenue.
If a buyer pays the asking price, it would appear to leave the office with a loss of over £1m on the project overall.
Land Registry and Mr Mold’s office’s documents show it had paid £3.3m for the building.
Other documents from the office obtained through a freedom of information request suggest the office spent £660,000 on VAT, about £525,000 on designs and a further £187,500 on stamp duty. That would mean it has spent at least £4.6m on it so far.
Mr Mold’s office was asked to confirm it had spent the money on designs. It asked the Local Democracy Reporting Service to submit another freedom of information request for those details.
The documents show Northamptonshire’s then chief fire officer Darren Dovey said the workshop was “definitely the best option” before it was bought.
He said he was also supportive of a plan to close Earls Barton’s fire station and move it into the workshop. The village’s fire station remains open.
Northamptonshire Police’s chief constable Nick Adderley said he was “very supportive” of the project, “if affordable”.
He said he wanted the police to use a site that was “modern and fit for purpose”.
Mr Mold’s office also said the office block in the building was “substantially larger” than its transport and logistics team would have initially needed.
It said that meant there was an opportunity to put other parts to different uses, including a conference suite.
Northamptonshire’s police, fire and crime panel was told in April that the building was being prepared to go on the market.
The panel was told the office “carried out a review of the joint estate to assess affordability and suitability to provide best value”.
Also that month, a spokesperson for Mr Mold’s office said the building initially “suited our requirements” and “considerable work” was done to plan for it.
“However, as the public would expect we keep our plans under constant review, to ensure they continue to deliver for our business and the taxpayer,” they said.
Mr Mold will meet the Northamptonshire’s police, fire and crime panel at a meeting on Thursday.