Talks proposed on new offices for council

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The news that public talks are set to begin on a council’s controversial multi-million pound proposal to build new offices has been welcomed by opposition councillors but branded “a bit late.”

Members of Harrogate Borough Council’s cabinet and council agreed last year their preferred option would see new offices built at Knapping Mount but today councillors will be asked to back plans to begin public talks in May on this and another option.

The authority has been considering a range of proposals to reduce its office accommodation as staff are currently split between five main sites at Crescent Gardens, Springfield House, Scottsdale House, Knapping Mount and Victoria Park House. Its previous plans to move to the site of the former Harrogate police station were thrown into disarray when the building was listed.

The two options for consideration are relocating to a new purpose-built headquarters at Knapping Mount, leaving the council’s other sites to be sold off, or alternatively, consolidating down to three buildings: Crescent Gardens, Springfield House and Scottsdale House.

Coun Helen Flynn, Nidd Valley, (Lib Dem) said: “We welcome consultation but we think its a bit late.

“We have gone a long way down the line with no public consultation.”

She said a lot of people were unhappy with the proposals which could see a considerable sum of cash invested in new offices and said her group favoured the option which kept Crescent Gardens and Springfield House.

“People are not happy about it generally speaking. They see it as a waste of public money at a time when we should be careful with our public money,” she added.

Council bosses have said many of the current offices are in need of investment to maintain and upgrade them and by operating from fewer sites the authority will be able to reduce its running costs.

Last year a report prepared for councillors said: “The net capital cost of improvements and consolidation in existing buildings is estimated to be £4.8m against £7.9-£8.9m for a development of office accommodation on the Knapping Mount site.”

However it found running costs would be far less if the authority moved to newly-built offices and a report by consultants found “significant savings” would be made.

Members of the council’s cabinet committee will discuss details of the consultation, proposed to open on May 26 and run for ten weeks. The results would then be debated by the council ahead of a final decision in early 2015.

Council leader, Coun Anthony Alton said public talks were being proposed now as more detailed information was available: “Public consultation is an important aspect of the democratic system, allowing a two-way flow of information between the council and the council tax payer. But, it is important to do this when we can provide enough information for the public to fully consider.

“We believe that the creation of a design concept will provide everyone with a full picture of what we are proposing, and they will have sufficient information to help them to give an informed opinion on the council’s future accommodation strategy.

“Ultimately, the responses we receive will shape the council’s decision on how to proceed.”