Verdict on council HQ to end over 20 years of debate

A LANDMARK decision is due next week when plans for a Yorkshire council to centralise its operations are expected to be approved after a saga spanning more than 20 years.

Detailed blueprints to transform a former lower school site into a new headquarters for Richmondshire District Council will be considered by the local authority’s planning committee.

The council’s existing offices have been deemed unfit for purpose, and the move to buildings dating from the 1960s on about half of the former Richmond Lower School will bring to a close a drawn-out bid to find a new base.

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The possibility of centralising the council’s operations was first mooted in the 1980s and, if the project goes ahead, it would be the first time in the authority’s 38-year history that services have been brought together on one site.

The council’s leader, John Blackie, said the proposed relocation would provide state-of-the-art facilities while keeping the workforce in the boundaries of Richmond, which would help bolster the town’s economy.

Coun Blackie, who is a member of the planning committee, added: “We have grappled with this issue for many years now, but next week will see a defining moment in the history of Richmondshire District Council. While we have to listen to both sides of the argument, it appears at last that we have a scheme that has the support of the vast majority of people.”

The Yorkshire Post revealed last month that the Government had paved the way for a deal to be struck when the Department for Education gave the go-ahead for the site to be decommissioned as an educational building.

The council has submitted an application for full planning permission which would allow the change of use and provide access to the site for the disabled.

The plans include installing ramped access from Station Road and a new front entrance to the building, along with cycle parking. The re-development would also introduce eco-friendly technology including solar panels to generate electricity and “intelligence lighting” with automatic dimming facilities as well as introducing double glazing and cavity wall insulation.

The proposed move will be funded from the sale of the existing council’s buildings at Swale House, Frenchgate and Friars Wynd. The Richmond Community Office, which is leased by the council, would also close.

The £1.5m relocation would create a base for community groups, and a separate application is due to be submitted for this use at a later date.

But the council’s planned relocation has been beset by delays and controversy. A previous scheme detailed a £4m move to a business park three miles out of Richmond town centre. But campaigners voiced fears jobs and open spaces would have been lost if the move to Colburn had gone ahead.

The proposed move to the former Richmond Lower School site has been planned for the last year. It became vacant when the lower and upper schools moved onto the same site in a £32m redevelopment.

Richmond School’s new premises were officially opened by Lord Coe last month when he was in the market town for the arrival of the Olympic Torch. If the planning application is approved on Tuesday next week, the council’s move could be completed next year.