Ex-mayors team up to condemn civic move

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A CROSS-party group of former mayors of the Harrogate district have joined forces to oppose the council’s £12.4m plans to convert its historic headquarters into a boutique hotel and move to a newly built site.

The group of 16 former mayors – including the mayor of the borough for 2011-2012, Coun Less Ellington – have written a letter opposing the move to sell historic Crescent Gardens and four other buildings to centralise operations at a single location on the site of the old police station on North Park Road.

It ratchets up the pressure on Tory-led Harrogate Borough Council, after the influential Harrogate Civic Society and the opposition Liberal Democrats group raised concerns earlier this month over the move, claiming proper process had not been followed as it was agreed by cabinet a day before it appeared before the authority’s overview and scrutiny committee.

The proposals were voted through at a full council meeting in February, although a report drawn up by council officers remains exempt from the public, due to the “commercially sensitive” nature of some of the information it contains.

In the letter the former mayors say they wrote to register their “deepest concerns” that “the distinctiveness of our wonderful town is being eroded”.

“We are concerned that the option to extend Crescent Gardens both upwards and sideways was never explored in any depth,” it says.

“It is our considered collective view that Crescent Gardens should be retained, conserved and improved for the council’s staff, residents and visitors.”

Local authority chiefs maintain the centralisation of services is fundamental to ensure the council’s future amid cutbacks due to the Government’s austerity drive.

The council believes the cost of loans for the new premises will be financed from the savings it makes by moving and that the new premises will make it more accessible.