REDUCING the potential burden on council taxpayers of what Labour is claiming is a huge debt incurred from building the council's new headquarters is to be a priority. High on the list, according to cabinet member for finance and treasury, Councillor Simon Hall, will be making better use of what he says is an under-occupied building. He did not rule out staff now in the plush Bernard Weatherill House in Mint Walk moving to other council-owned properties, such as neighbouring Davis House, to free up more space to attract outside bodies wanting to rent space. Roehampton University is already in discussion with the council about taking over part of the building. The plight facing the council over financing Bernard Weatherill House was outlined by Cllr Hall at Monday's cabinet meeting. A report presented to the cabinet showed the total cost of providing Bernard Weatherill House now stood at just under £134 million, of which £112 million was down to loans made to John Laing, the council's partners in the Croydon Council Urban Regeneration Vehicle (CCURV). The previous Tory administration has always maintained the loan was the cheapest way to finance the building project. The financial benefits the authority would eventually receive from redevelopment of other CCURV sites, such as the former Taberner House headquarters, would mean ultimately no impact on council taxpayers. The new Labour-run council is not so trusting and wants to find quicker ways to generate income to help offset interest on the loans. Monday's report showed that under present policy, interest costs would amount £85 million over the next 25 years. Cllr Hall told the meeting the move from Taberner House to the more modern and efficient new headquarters had helped save £2.5 million. He said: "We are now looking at different ways to manage the building and how we can make the most of it in order to mitigate the debt mountain." He said after the meeting by looking at moving some staff out of Bernard Weatherill House, more of the building could be used to generate an income. Cllr Hall said: "It is about what is fair for Croydon council taxpayers and Croydon residents." It was important, he said, the council managed its buildings in the best way possible to enable it to maintain front line services.
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