Old council offices ‘not fit for purpose’ as new plans unveiled

Sketch of proposed new council office
Sketch of proposed new council office

Harrogate residents can now have their say on the council’s proposed £9m new office build, as the plans go to public consultation this week.

The final decision - said to be one of the biggest Harrogate Borough Council (HBC) has faced in 40 years - will not be announced until 2015 and a 10 week public consultation launched on Monday.

NADV 1306188AM2 Council offices. Knapping mount.  (1306188AM2)

NADV 1306188AM2 Council offices. Knapping mount. (1306188AM2)

HBC chief executive Wallace Sampson told the ‘Advertiser the current council office buildings were not suitable for modern working and gave me a tour of the current Knapping Mount premises.

He said: “The buildings were not designed for modern office practices.

“Most offices now have open plan designs, which is conducive for modern working practises. These old converted buildings have lots of small offices with only a few desks in each room. Staff working in the same department are in different rooms, it makes it difficult to communicate with each other.”

Currently HBC staff are split between five sites across Harrogate; Knapping Mount, Crescent Gardens, Scottsdale House, Victoria Park House and Springfield Gardens.

The council say this is inefficient and expensive with five sets of business rates, utility costs, and the duplication of services.

Mr Sampson added: “A lot of time is spent travelling between offices for meetings, the current set up doesn’t encourage cross-departmental working which is becoming more and more commonplace.”

Staff at Knapping Mount explained that the Knapping Annexe buildings were built as a temporary measure and the roofs leak, the walls have damp and several of the rooms have no natural lighting.

“It isn’t a comfortable place to work, it isn’t fit for purpose.” said Council leader Coun Anthony Alton.

“These buildings were put up in the 1970s and were expected to last 10 years at best. But they are still being used.”

The consultation will provide details on two options which are being put forward for consideration – the council’s preferred option of relocating to a new purpose-built headquarters at Knapping Mount at a cost of £7.9m to £8.9m, or consolidating down to three buildings; Crescent Gardens, Springfield House and Scottsdale House at a cost of around £4.8m.

The idea of selling off the landmark Crescent Gardens building has proved unpopular with some residents and the Civic Society had called on the council to look at refurbishing the Georgian building.

Mr Sampson said: “There has been some talk of building a second storey on Crescent Gardens, but it isn’t as simple as just building on top. We have looked at the cost and it would be around £17million, and still wouldn’t give us enough space.”

Harrogate Lib Dems have criticised the council’s preferred Knapping Mount option, supporting the second option of consolidating three sites and selling Knapping Mount land.

At a council meeting in April Lib Dem leader Coun Phillip Broadbank said the council should sell Knapping Mount. He said: “It is prime housing land.”

However the Conservative controlled council say the second option would not lead to the same level of efficiency savings - the Knapping Mount option is expected to save the council £790,000 per annum.

An early sketch of how the new building could look is included in the public consultation.

Coun Alton said: “We had to get some plans and designs done ahead of the consultation so that people could visualise what we are proposing.

“It won’t be some modern glass building, it will be in keeping with Harrogate and the surrounding area.”

The public consultation is available online at: www.harrogate.gov.uk/officeproject and drop-in sessions are listed above.

The consultation will close on August 4.