Council offices up for rent – but who knew?

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Penns Place

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EAST HAMPSHIRE District Council’s headquarters at Penns Place in Petersfield is on the market and available to rent.

Vail Williams is advertising the office complex for a rent of £425,000 a year.

The move is to understand whether there is a market for the site.

If not, councillors told the Herald, the authority will approach the South Downs National Park Authority – the offices lie within its boundaries – to apply for a change of use for the site, to allow the buildings to be demolished to make way for housing.

The move to put Penns Place on the market has sparked a furious war of words between two leading councillors – with claims some members know what is happening within the council only when they read about it in the Herald.

Claims have also resurfaced that EHDC was looking to move to Havant, as many officers already work for both authorities.

The opposition group leader, Lib Dem Steve Hunt, said: “Councillors of all parties didn’t know about this until residents emailed asking what was going on.

“None of us – Lib Dems, Independents, Greens and some Tory members as well, I believe – had absolutely any idea Penns Place offices were with estate agent Vail Williams.

“I learned about it from a member of the public.

“This is like the green planning policy council leader Richard Millard revealed in the press last week. We didn’t know about that either.

“Cllr Millard is a Tory and the Tory government has been accused of revealing decisions and policies to the press before MPs.

“It seems the council has become the same. Councillors are the last people to find out what is going on.”

He also claimed: “My view is it is another step towards a full-on merger. We are already seeing Havant documents mistakenly distributed to East Hampshire councillors. It is becoming a cut-and-paste policy council.”

Council leader Richard Millard denied the claims. “At no point do we intend to see a merger between EHDC and Havant Borough Council,” he said.

“I have made this point abundantly clear on numerous occasions and am happy to do so again for the benefit of Cllr Hunt.

“There will be no merger between the two councils – we will always have two separate councils, served by one workforce.

“On the matter of the future of Penns Place, we have recently placed the building on the rental market to establish if there is any demand for the premises as offices.

“This is a necessary part of the planning process.

“This decision was taken by cabinet back in July and the associated papers, which are sent directly to all councillors, have been available to read since then.

“Unfortunately, it appears Cllr Hunt has not read these documents.

“To further encourage transparency in our dealings, we hold group leader briefings for all political parties to attend.

“Unfortunately, again, Cllr Hunt has not attended the last three of these meetings with no apologies sent.

“Perhaps if Cllr Hunt would like to be better informed, he should look to the opportunities laid out in front of him.”