Sir Alan Beith warns DEFRA not to embarrass itself and pull out of Alnwick base

Sir Alan Beith says the move by DEFRA would make a mockery of the department's rural affairs remit

Defra office at Alnwick
Defra office at Alnwick

A Northumberland MP has warned a Government department of the “embarrassment” that would be caused if it pulls out of a £5 million office facility to save costs.

Sir Alan Beith recently spoke to staff at Alnwick’s Lion House - home to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) - about concerns over the future of the site.

Last month, it was announced that 40 jobs would be cut there next June by Steria, who provide support services for Government agencies under Shared Services Connected Limited (SSCL), due to the failure to win an NHS contract in the town, but DEFRA has said their employees will remain in place.

The Kier North East flagship green development opened in 2008 and has won environmentally friendly awards for its sustainable design.

Sir Alan said: “The DEFRA offices were constructed to a very high environmental standard just six years ago, with solar panels, rainwater harvesting and wind turbines providing much of the heat and power needed for the building.

Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith
Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith
 

“The offices cost nearly £5 million to construct and are held up as a fantastic example of using technology to create buildings with low running costs and a low carbon footprint. The lifespan for the building was set at a minimum of 25 years.

“The bespoke file store inside the premises is vital for handling of older paper records from Government Departments and Agencies and would be very expensive to relocate or to provide from scratch at another site.”

SSCL staff have been offered the chance to take jobs in Longbenton instead or accept redundancy next summer, but there are fears the skeleton staff left behind in Lion House will tempt DEFRA to pull out altogether.

Sir Alan added: “I am very concerned that DEFRA does not realise the potential embarrassment which would arise if the building was taken out of use and left empty.

“Not only would valuable jobs be lost for the local community, making a mockery of DEFRA’s role as the department with responsibility for rural affairs, but the waste of money and effort which went into building these flagship offices just a few years ago.

“I am continuing to discuss the prospects for bringing further work from DEFRA and perhaps other Government departments to this base in Alnwick. The quality of the work carried out here by the teams is second to none and I will fight to keep these valuable jobs here.”

Defra was unavailable for comment yesterday.

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