No ‘glass palace’ for levy board – Paice

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) is set to announce a new deal that will finally see it relocate to permanent offices.

The long-awaited move comes months after the plug was pulled on plans for a £10m state-of-the-art headquarters at the National Agricultural Centre, Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire.

The eco-building would have boasted a “green” living roof to increase insulation, a rainwater harvesting tank, solar panels and a woodchip powered boiler for heating;

But government cuts meant the idea was ditched last autumn.

Farm minister Jim Paice said AHDB was now almost in a position to announce a more cost-effective headquarters.

“I do know they are very close to doing a deal that will see them better located than where they are now,” he told the Norfolk Farming Conference on Thursday (24 February).

The original proposal – which would have seen money borrowed against levypayers’ surety – was not the best use of farmers’ funds, Mr Paice suggested.

“Frankly, I think the last two or three years have been partially wasted by the hassle over a new building,” he told delegates at the John Innes Centre, Norwich.

“I don’t think they should have been looking at an all-singing, all-dancing glass palace at Stoneleigh Park.”

But Mr Paice insisted that AHDB had a vital role to play in providing market information, research and knowledge transfer for farmers.

“I want to see that role enhanced,” he said.

Staff have now spent two winters in temporary offices at Stoneleigh after the AHDB was created from the merger of six sector levy boards in 2008.

Merging the six bodies into a single entity on a shared site aimed to save £4m a year.

AHDB chief executive Tom Taylor said: “We are still exploring our accommodation alternatives on and around the Stoneleigh Park area.

“The options giving best value for levy payers’ funds are currently with the Cabinet Office for consideration. Delivering best value for levy payers has been central to every AHDB accommodation solution we have explored from the very start.”

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