Letter: Reasons to embrace Harrogate council office move

NADV 1401142AM6 Council Offices. (1401142AM6)
NADV 1401142AM6 Council Offices. (1401142AM6)
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Reasons to embrace council office move

As Mr Rhodes kindly provided me with a copy of his letter concerning Harrogate Borough Council’s proposal to build new headquarters at Knapping Mount, I would like to respond to the points he has raised, and explain a little about the rationale behind the council’s proposals.

I am pleased to see that Mr Rhodes agrees with our view that the current situation of operating from five different sites is untenable.

I cannot see how any efficiently run business would continue to operate five sites within such a small radius, without looking at how efficiencies could be achieved.

Some of the council’s office buildings are also in need of significant investment and do not meet our specific needs of how we occupy the buildings. In addition, energy efficiency and on-going maintenance and running costs have led us to seek alternative office accommodation solutions. This will ultimately lead to savings for the council tax payer.

As elected representatives of the community, Councillors are tasked to make decisions on the behalf of their constituents, and to act in their best interests.

Much time has been spent considering and deliberating the various options available, from refurbishing our current buildings, to creating purpose-built offices, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

The option which has been approved by Council, is the one which I believe is the best possible course of action, both financially and also for ensuring the highest level of service provision for the community.

Public consultation is an important aspect of the democratic system.

It allows us to provide a two-way flow of information between the council and the council tax payer.

But, it is also important to instigate this dialogue when we are able to provide enough information for the public to consider.

A public consultation on the development of new headquarters has already been planned for the early summer, as the council has had to take into account what they are allowed to consult on during the period immediately before an election.

By this stage, the council will be able to provide consultees with more details of the proposals to help them understand how the new council office development may fit and operate on the site.

The opinions of Harrogate Borough Council’s employees are also extremely important and the council has already consulted with staff to glean their views on their working environment, and will continue to engage with them as any design is developed.

In July 2013, after evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of six options (as detailed in a number of officer reports), two were re-presented to Council – to build new office accommodation at Knapping Mount with the disposal of Crescent Gardens, Scottsdale House, Victoria Park House and Springfield House; or to invest in Crescent Gardens, Scottsdale House and Springfield House, while disposing of Knapping Mount and Victoria Park. Both options fully considered the financial implications and accommodation requirements, such as the correct provision of space. Mr Rhodes raises issue with some of the options which were considered which suggested retaining our current properties, but as a consequence would result in the overprovision of space.

Due to the layout of our current buildings we would not be able to utilise the current floor space as efficiently as in a new purpose built office, and therefore more space would be required.

Concerning Mr Rhodes comments regarding the retention of Brandreth House on the Knapping Mount site, any scheme that proposed the removal of Brandreth House would need to demonstrate that the benefits of redeveloping the site outweighed the loss of any heritage interest associated with this building.

In this respect, Brandreth House is not identified as a ‘landmark building’ within the Conservation Area Appraisal and an assessment by English Heritage has concluded that it is not worthy of listing. While the subject of Harrogate’s heritage is immensely important, there is no designation that seeks to protect the use of the buildings around the Crescent Gardens area for civic or administrative purposes.

Indeed, not all of the buildings referred to in Mr Rhodes letter are in civic or spa use and English Heritage themselves decided that the Crescent Garden building was not worthy of listing, commenting that it was not part of a suite of civic buildings.

Crescent Gardens was identified as a ‘landmark building’ in the conservation area and as such, this building will be protected in the future.

I believe that we all share a desire to protect the heritage of Harrogate, but we must also look to the future. Heritage evolves and the new office will be part of that natural progress.

In relation to the structure of local government in the next 25 years, the issue of unitary authorities was raised by councillors when debating the council’s office accommodation strategy.

However, in the absence of any clearly-stated Government policy to introduce unitary local government we cannot let this subject continue to delay important decisions that can help make the Council more efficient and save money.

In the event that there is a move towards unitary status in the coming years, having modern accommodation that can be flexible to meet the changing needs of a complex organisation, should assist the council in ensuring that it is a key part of any administration.

While Mr Rhodes correctly points out that the Government BREEAM standard can be achieved on conversion/extensions as it can on new offices, energy efficiency was but one consideration in the decision, the high costs of converting the council’s current buildings was also a fundamental reason for recommending constructing a new headquarters.

The move to new, purpose-built, energy-efficient offices would halve the office floor space we currently use and offer long-term efficiencies in our running costs.

It will also maximise additional savings and provide greater flexibility for the coming decades. Modern organisations need to take issues such as this into account if they are to be fit for purpose for the future.

One final point, the building of new council headquarters also has the potential to provide a boost for the economy, from companies bidding for the construction work on the new headquarters to businesses taking up residence in previous council owned properties and creating new jobs.

Local building firms will also benefit and they will be integral in transforming former council buildings so they are fit for their new life.

As such, shouldn’t such a move be embraced?

Coun Anthony Alton,

Leader of Harrogate Borough Council.