THE leader of York Council has claimed the historic Guildhall is in danger of becoming an “expensive ivory tower relic” unless civic services are shifted to a new multi-million pound headquarters.
Controversial plans have been announced by the council to move its operations out of the Grade I listed building into a new base which is being created in West Offices.
Council leader James Alexander, whose Labour administration announced last month details of the planned relocation, has now hit back at a bid by rival politicians to dramatically revise the proposals.
The Yorkshire Post revealed on Tuesday that Tory councillors had raised concerns that centuries of civic heritage will be lost forever if the council moves out of the Guildhall.
Conservatives have claimed the council should investigate whether it could borrow up to £800,000 needed for repairs to the Guildhall and then offset repayments by income generated from renting out new office space in the building to the private sector.
But Coun Alexander claimed the Tories’ plans are “ludicrous” at a time when the council is having to enforce multi-million pound cutbacks amid the Government’s austerity drive. He added: “Why should councillors sit in what would quickly become an expensive ivory tower relic? My administration wants to reduce the cost of bureaucracy, not increase it.”
Conservative councillors have launched a formal challenge to the relocation of services after calling in the plans, which will be debated by the council’s scrutiny management committee on Monday.
Under the current proposals, the council will continue to own the Guildhall but it is looking to recruit an outside organisation to run the building. Full council meetings are due to continue to be held in the Guildhall, but Tories maintain all council meetings should take place there.
The Conservatives have also called for chief executive Kersten England and the council’s democratic services to remain based in the Guildhall, although other departments should be switched to West Offices.
The overall project to create the new headquarters is costing £43.8m and West Offices is expected to be ready in September, with a phased move of staff and services up until early 2013.