New civic services review but town hall is saved

SENIOR politicians have opted for a Yorkshire council to remain in an ailing town hall despite facing a multi-million pound bill for improvements after a public outcry over a move to a new headquarters.

Scarborough Borough Council’s cabinet met yesterday when members opted to remain in the Grade II listed building which has been a base for civic services since the turn of the 20th century.

However, the council’s leader Tom Fox admitted that the status quo cannot be retained, and the financially-ailing authority now faces the biggest overhaul of its working practices since the re-organisation of local government in 1974.

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A working party is to be set up to conduct a wide-ranging review, with the possibility that 1960s annexes, which Coun Fox branded as “deplorable”, could be demolished as the council’s workforce continues to shrink.

Senior civil servants at the council are also due to embark on urgent negotiations with Westminster to ensure the Government does not pull the plug on a £3m windfall.

The cabinet’s decision to remain at the Town Hall in Scarborough has thrown a question mark over whether £3m from the Homes and Communities Agency will still be available to redevelop the site and the nearby Futurist Theatre.

A move out of the Town Hall has been mooted for more than a decade, but Coun Fox was adamant the building can be transformed into a facility fit for the 21st century.

However, he admitted the cabinet’s decision had been swayed by a mass of opposition to the proposed move out of the town centre to a new base at the former Scarborough Building Society headquarters at Prospect House.

Coun Fox said: “This has been a long and often difficult journey, but I do believe the decision is the right one.

“At first, I simply viewed this as a decision about bricks and mortar, and looking at the best opportunities for regeneration and the creation of local jobs.

“But the civic side of the authority is so important to people, who have told us that they would like the council to remain at the Town Hall.

“We have reflected on what people have said, and adapted the business plan accordingly. But the status quo cannot be maintained, we do need to change the way the council is run.

“This will mean a big shift in the way the council works, but it is a challenge which I will relish.”

The planned relocation had been considered as the Government’s funding cuts heightened the need to look at a shake-up of the property portfolio of the council, which is having to save nearly £4.5m over two years.

But cabinet members agreed yesterday to pursue a £5.8m programme of maintenance at the Town Hall, which opened in 1901, while also carrying out a £775,000 upgrade to IT systems.

A further report on the viability of the Futurist Theatre, which could be demolished after consultants claimed retaining the venue would be “commercial suicide”, will also be carried out.

The cabinet’s proposals will now go before a full council meeting on Friday when a final decision is expected to be made.