At tonight’s meeting of Harrogate Borough Council’s cabinet, recommendations will be made on the future of its office accommodation in the town.
The council has been considering a range of options to reduce its office accommodation with staff currently being split over five main sites: Crescent Gardens, Springfield House, Scottsdale House, Knapping Mount and Victoria Park House.
This is costly and inefficient, with five sets of business rates, water bills etc. The two options are considered to be the most viable of all available – either a new build at Knapping Mount or consolidation from five to three buildings.
A number of options have been considered and these are listed below. The options consider a number of available development sites within Harrogate as well as redeveloping parts of the HIC for office accommodation.
The costs identified in the options below are the Net Present Cost of the option. This is related to the future life-cycle costs of the option over a 25 year period and includes assumptions on the running costs (rates, utilities, insurance, facilities management etc.) in addition to the initial capital cost of the project and an allowance for the value of the assets still held at the end of the 25 year period. This does not include future planned maintenance costs or interest payments required.
Base Case Option – continue with existing premises £13.0m
This does not address the present inefficiencies with the current buildings or support the Council’s transformation agenda.
Acquire Hornbeam Park site, extend and refurb Victoria Park House and refurb Springfield House £11.3m
The facility remains tenanted with the timescale for vacation to be confirmed. This option would result in offices being spread across three separate sites across the town.
Acquire Beckwith Knowle site (let remainder 20%/30%), extend and refurb Victoria Park House and refurb Springfield House £9.0m/ £17.0m
Due to the high initial capital cost and risk of potential void periods this option is not considered to be a viable option. An updated proposition for this site has also been considered but this still does not constitute a viable option.
Acquire Pannal Site and bring forward redevelopment with new offices, extend and refurb Victoria Park House and refurb Springfield House £20.5m
This option results in the offices being spread across three sites and therefore does not supportthe Council’s transformation agenda. The indicative purchase price for this site also exceeds the advised valuation of the site.
Total/partial re-provision of new Accommodation at North Yorkshire Police Site £12.3m/ £10.3m
Following the listing of the site these options are no longer an option.
Retain Crescent Gardens, Scottsdale House and Springfield House £11.9m
This option involves the refurbishment of Crescent Gardens, Scottsdale House and Springfield House with the implementation of some modern work styles but not across all sites.
Retain Crescent Gardens (Build mansard roof space and new customer contact centre) and Springfield House £17.1m
This involves the refurbishment and addition of a two storey extension and customer contact centre to Crescent Gardens. The cost of these works relative to the value of the asset once completed make this option financially unviable and would reduce the options for future flexibility in reducing the office estate.
HIC options £9.9-£14.1m
Potential for a high degree of disruption to the HIC site, impact on the HIC operation and future flexibility of the site as well as some significant tecchnical and structural issues.
Knapping Mount £13.0- £13.7m
This option would allow the complete co-location of all officestaff within the same site. However retaining the site does mean the loss of a significantcapital receipt.
Councillor Anthony Alton, Leader of the Council said:
We want to keep council tax down – we haven’t had a tax rise in four years – and to do that we need to look at every aspect of our business. Many people say that the council should behave more as a business would. No business would have its operation constructed in such a costly way.
Both options bring benefits in financial terms by reducing the number of buildings we need to heat, light and maintain. Improving the way we work will benefit residents and make it easier for them to access the services we provide and of course will bring efficiencies for council by staff being co-located.
Having considered all the evidence for both options and the efficiencies and improvements they will bring, Cabinet is likely to recommend to the full council that the best option for the council and its residents is new purpose built office accommodation on the site at Knapping Mount.
It will bring greater efficiencies for the organisation together with the highest environmental and sustainability standards to minimise energy use. So on all counts it will save real cash which will benefit council tax payers and there will be no external borrowing to fund it. Pay back will be over a short period of time.
If full council give their support to this anticipated recommendation, it would mean the freehold disposal of Crescent Gardens, Victoria Park House and Scottsdale House and the leasehold disposal of Springfield House.
Councillor Alton and his Cabinet have said they recognise that Crescent Gardens is a building for which many have great affection. Protection for the building can be afforded through its identification as a landmark building in an established conservation area. Early indications suggest that it could become another world class boutique hotel and return to its former use as a building whose main purpose was tourism when it was developed as part of the town’s spa offer.
The Council believe that the development of the Knapping Mount site will also bring a boost to the local economy. Further to jobs created in the hospitality and conference industry, any construction or refurbishment opportunities will help the job market including support for those just getting on the employment ladder.
The proposed changes have not been warmly received by all, with the Lib Dems speaking out against them.
The Lib Dem group have said that they favour an approach that would see under-utilisation and occupancy of the current five sites tackled in the short term, so that those sites most inefficient and in need of repair would be sold, improving the working conditions of many council staff and re-housing them in current council office space with greater energy efficiency.
The Group is also in favour of an internal re-vamp of the historic and local iconic home of the council at Crescent Gardens. They say that if current plans for selling off the Crescent Garden building go ahead, it would be turned into a hotel, diminishing the heritage value of the civic heart of Harrogate, which is also home to HIC and the recently renovated Royal Hall.
Councillor Helen Flynn, Libdem Shadow Member for Finance & Resources, said:
After carefully considering all the options, we are still struggling to see how such a move can be justified, especially now when local and central government finances are so constrained and local services are coming under threat.
Though efficiencies may in theory be gainedat some point in the future, the questions we keep coming back to are: what are the benefits of the move to a new site to the local taxpayer and when might they materialise?