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GCHQ ditches plans to build at Cheltenham Doughnut (EN)

samedi 1er août 2009, sélectionné par Spyworld


GCHQ will not be expanding at the Doughnut at Benhall in Cheltenham.

Plans to build a new office block to house 800 workers and a multi-storey car park at the Gloucestershire site have been shelved.

The staff are currently working at the signals intelligence agency’s site at Oakley and were due to transfer to the Benhall site.

But GCHQ says its multi-million pound plans have become another victim of the recession.

A spokesman said : "We have had to review our accommodation plans in the current economic climate, and concluded that an alternative approach will be much better value for money for the taxpayer.

"It is too early to say what will happen when. And we will, of course, need to obtain planning permission for our revised plans.

"I want to assure our neighbours at the Benhall site that we will still be addressing their concerns over parking. We will also consult our neighbours and take their views into account as our revised plans are developed."

The proposal to bring workers from Oakley would have finally seen all the organisation’s Cheltenham staff on one site, which was the original reason for building the Doughnut.

The plan, which was intended to make the agency more efficient and cohesive, was to be funded in part by selling off the Oakley site for development, and it is understood that falling land prices is one factor in the dropping of the latest scheme.

The spokesman added : "It’s true to say that we would have preferred to have everyone on the Benhall site."

Increased recruitment at the intelligence centre since 2001 has meant that the four-storey circular building, the biggest PFI project in Europe when it was being built, has never been big enough since it opened in 2003.

Now GCHQ will look at maximising its existing resources.

The spokesman said : "We will look at making more use of the Oakley site, as the IT systems age off, and new ones put in at Benhall there’s less need for the computer hall at Oakley and cooling plant. The buildings housing the equipment are old, so we might be able to release the bottom part of the site.

"We will also look at getting contractors to work at their companies’ offices off-site in the Gloucestershire area."

The expansion plans had been criticised by neighbouring residents who have been at loggerheads with GCHQ over parking – they complained that workers at the site park in nearby streets, blocking access.

GCHQ says it will continue to work with residents to find a solution to the problems.

Chairman of the Benhall Residents’ Association John Grover said the abandonment of the plans wouldn’t be a blessing for his neighbours.

He said : "I don’t think it’s going to make much of a difference.

"The plans were to bring 800 staff over, and build a 1,200-space car park on 400 existing spaces, so it would have been the status quo. We’ve spoken with GCHQ and there have been plenty of ideas but something needs to be done."

In 2003, GCHQ was criticised by the National Audit Office for failing to realise the cost of moving its computers to the new base.

In 1997, IT costs were estimated at £41 million but in the end cost £308 million. That pushed the overall cost of the entire Doughnut project to £645 million.

It was because of that mistake that staff were left at Oakley when the Doughnut opened in 2003. GCHQ had to pay £17 million compensation to the developers, who had hoped to build on the upper part of the Oakley site in 2008.

In 2004, a report by the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee said the Doughnut was too full and more space would be required.

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