A DECISION to give the go-ahead for a Yorkshire council’s controversial relocation to a new purpose-built headquarters at a cost of millions of pounds has been heralded as one of the most important in the authority’s 40-year history.
The protracted saga for Harrogate Borough Council’s bid to move to a new base has taken a major step forward after councillors backed the proposals during a full council meeting for the relocation to a site at Knapping Mount.
The decision on Wednesday evening marks a key milestone in a process which began in 2010, when the council embarked on developing a strategy which aimed to achieve major savings as well as addressing problems of having staff spread across a series of sites in the spa town.
While critics have claimed building new offices is a waste of public money, council bosses maintained the authority will reduce its running costs by operating from fewer sites.
The leader of the council, Coun Richard Cooper, claimed he “would not have been able to look people in the eye” if the authority had not taken the opportunity to make annual savings of £1m and then had to close key facilities such as community centres and leisure facilities or cut benefits due to a lack of available money.
He said: “This decision is one of the biggest and most important that the council has made since it was established over 40 years ago. With central government funding reducing year on year, the council needed to look at how it could make significant savings to ensure that we do not have to make any draconian cuts to services.”
The relocation is expected to cost £8.72m, although the council has stressed that it does not require external borrowing. The project will instead be funded by a combination of the council’s financial reserves and internal borrowing.
The move has, however, been plagued by delays and controversy since it was first announced five years ago that the authority was considering the relocation to a new headquarters.
It considered a range of proposals to reduce its offices as staff were split between five main sites at Crescent Gardens, Springfield House, Scottsdale House, Knapping Mount and Victoria Park House. It had hoped to buy the former police station on North Road when North Yorkshire Police moved to a new £18m building on the outskirts of Harrogate. However, the council was forced to abandoned the plans when the building, which has since been re-developed into apartments, was listed by English Heritage in 2012.
The council voted in 2013 to push ahead with planning a new office at Knapping Mount, a brownfield site originally earmarked for housing, and councillors approved planning permission for the new building in March.
Coun Cooper said: “We have carefully considered the financial implications from the initial cost of building to the long term operational costs, and I believe that the creation of a new council headquarters will allow us to achieve long term savings.
“The council will be able to improve the service we offer by operating from one location, allow us to invest more in the services that really matter to our customers, ensure funding is available for other important district projects and to be more environmentally friendly.”
Work is set to begin on the new council offices in the autumn and is due to be completed by the spring of 2017.