Council prepares for ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to move

A DISTRICT council serving vast swathes of rural North Yorkshire is set to move its offices into a redundant school in a £3m move its leader claims is a “once in a lifetime opportunity”.

Richmondshire District Council has announced plans to move from its antiquated headquarters on Frenchgate to the Richmond Lower School site which becomes vacant later this year when lessons are transferred to the new £32m Richmond School on Darlington Road.

As part of the proposed move, which would see nearly 200 council staff transferred to the site from four separate buildings, rooms and office space in the old school, situated on Station Road, would also be refurbished and made available for hire to the voluntary sector and community groups.

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Coun John Blackie, the leader of Richmondshire District Council, said the local authority is already in close discussion with North Yorkshire County Council about taking over the site, and believes the move, which will cost up to £3m and be largely funded by the sale of existing council buildings, could take place as early as 2013.

“We are going for this flat out,” he told the Yorkshire Post.

“This scheme will provide huge benefits for the council, its staff, and many of the various community groups in Richmond.

“Our council officers have had to suffer totally sub-standard council accommodation for some years that is totally inefficient.

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“New fit-for-purpose office accommodation for our council officers is long overdue, and a number of community groups in Richmond are seeking to relocate to a new base, with meeting rooms and function facilities on hand.

“Bringing them all together is a once in a lifetime opportunity and will be of great benefit to the community as well by having these services side by side.

”After serving loyally the local community for hundreds of years, it is appropriate that the fine old school in its grand setting perched overlooking the River Swale should continue in public ownership, albeit with a fresh direction and a new lease of life.”

Under the proposals, announced yesterday, Richmondshire District Council would occupy the modern block of the school, with the older parts of the Grade-II listed building converted into office space for voluntary and community organisations.

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The school’s impressive Grand Hall, which dates back to the 15th century, would be available for public hire for events such as weddings and banquets.

The Yorkshire Post understands there are a number of community groups across Richmondshire looking at moving into the new site, including Richmondshire Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) which needs to expand due to a sharp rise in demand since the recession.

Angie House, manager of the Richmondshire CAB, said: “We are in the process of discussing the move and there are a lot of different issues to look at.

“We have expressed an interest and I feel that as a bureau the best way forward is to improve access to our service.

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“This type of integrated approach has worked really well elsewhere although our service would still be independent and confidential.

“Having the council on the same site means people could get help more quickly if for example a housing officer is needed. There has been a big upturn in people coming to us for help, we need more interviewing rooms and there are not really any buildings in Richmondshire to move into.”

Under the plans, the Richmond Lower School site would pass into the stewardship of Richmondshire District Council which would then look to buy the site off North Yorkshire County Council at a later date.

The £32m pound refurbishment programme of the new Richmond School will be completed in 2012 and is part of the previous Government’s Building Schools for the Future scheme.