Harrogate Borough Council has approved the sale of Crescent Gardens and the build of a new office on the Knapping Mount site.
The proposal would see the sale of Crescent Gardens with the proceeds plus an additional £7.9m to £8.9m being found from internal borrowing to build a new office on the Knapping Mount site.
At a meeting of the Full Council a vote was taken, with the following outcome:
- 29 for the new build
- 16 against the new build
- 2 abstained (Cllr Simms, current Mayor and chair of the meeting and Cllr I Fox)
- 47 out of 54 Council Members voted
The vote was in-line with political affiliations, with Conservatives voting for, other than Cllr I Fox and Libdems voting against.
7 Members were not present at the debate: Cllr Margaret Atkinson, Cllr Caroline Bayliss, Cllr Ben Johnson, Cllr Pauline McHardy, Cllr Christine Ryder, Cllr Graham Swift and Cllr Simon Theakston.
Petitions were received from the Harrogate Civic Society, the Chamber of Trade and Commerce, Liberal Democrats and Amanda Bradwell, a nearby resident.
Brian Dunsby, speaking on behalf of the Chamber of Trade, said that the Chamber was a non-political organisation and had great reservations about the proposal. Mr Dunsby made reference to the lack of available information on the proposal and that other options needed to be looked at more closely than they currently had been. He believed the Council were acting unilaterally without sufficient consultation and called for the decision to be deferred pending further investigations.
Helen Flynn, speaking for the Harrogate District Libdems, tabled a petition of over 1,900 and asked for the Council to defer the decision on what was a waste of money.
Amanda Bradwell also spoke to the Council and said there was a lack of transparent information and lack of disclosure. She called for an open and full debate and said that this was giving groundswell of opposition against the Conservatives.
The Leader of the Council started the main debate outlining the background to the project and the projected costs that he believes would be made. Cllr Cooper said that this project was vital to ensure that Council Tax was not increased and services were not cut. He made reference to savings of £1M per year and a payback of 7 years.
There was a divide within the Council with Conservatives supporting the proposal and Libdems seeking a delay and greater visibility.
The arguments put forward supporting the office move:
- It would save £1M per year
- There had been a full consultations, but an acknowledgement the response was poor
- It was needed to avoid cuts to Council services or an increase in Council Tax
- It would position Harrogate to be at the centre of a unitary authority
- Crescent Gardens would be protected and contracts were being placed in a way to ensure that
- A short delay now would put the project back 18 months or more
- It was in the Conservative manifesto
- The option of Crescent Garden with Springfield House is not credible as it would not provide sufficient space without an additional floor on Crescent Gardens
The arguments put against the office move:
- Other, better value, options have not been considered
- Knapping Mount should be used for affordable housing
- Crescent Gardens should remain as the civic centrepiece for the town
- Other options could be evaluated quickly, like the Hornbeam Park option which was evaluated in 6 weeks
- The £1M yearly saving figures are not credible, many savings have happened already and would be applicable to other office options anyway
- The new building does not reach a sufficient level of efficiency
- A likely change to a unitary authority would make the new office redundant
- Council staff are not centralised now, and wouldn’t be following this change – staff have already been moved to the Hydro and a Claro Road office
The Liberal Democrats proposed an amendment that the decision be delayed by 6 weeks to allow an alternate option to be evaluated, this was the retention of Crescent Gardens and Springfield House with their refurbishment to bring them up to higher stand of office accommodation. The amendment was voted on and did not receive a majority.