Town Hall Project – Conservatives Propose Re-think & Review in light of economic downturn

At last nights Full Council Meeting I put forward 7 recommendations to the Council for confirmation and agreement.  Many of them were previously agreed decisions on the Town Hall project but others I felt needed to be explored and agreed.  Readers will be aware that the Town Hall project was first initiated by the Independent and Lib Dem Coalition in 2000 and has now been through three Councils to get to this stage.  The current proposals which can be viewed at for the retention of the current Town Hall with a modern extension replacing the Chaseley Building at the rear of the Town Hall.  The top two floors of theTown Hall will be re-developed into apartments with the ground floor being retained for Civic use.  The cost of the scheme is 7.5 million pounds including VAT, which we will be able to re-claim!

With the recent economic down turn we have decided to review the Council previous decisions and to widen the scope of possibilities to meet our future accommodation requirements.  Again last night there was a heated debate between Conservatives and Independent and Lib Dem Councillors which again saw Opposition Councillors wanting the Councils Offices and Staff moving out to Wesham, Although the Council has already been told that the Derby Road site is un-suitable in it’s current form and would have to be totally re-built at a cost close to that of the current proposals.

At the meeting I asked the following questions:

1. That the Council re-affirms its commitment to securing ‘fit for purpose’ office and civic accommodation at the earliest opportunity.

2. That the Council not agrees to consider the potential of leasing or renting accommodation to meets its needs alongside the possibility of retaining ownership.

3. The the Council re-affirms its commitment to retaining its primary administrative base in Lytham St Annes if possible. (the if possible being put forward by Cllr John Benett as an amendment which I seconded)

Just a quick note to say I argued to retain the staff in St Annes in the face of opposition due to the fact that I feel it would be very damaging to the Square should we move over 200 staff out of the immediate area during the current climate.  Independent Councillors said that we did not consider that when we moved staff from Wesham!  I had to point out that the impact of moving just 14 staff from Derby Rd, many of which were not office based, did not have an adverse effect on the local economy – I’m sure readers will agree that moving 200+ and the significant number of visitors to the Town Hall from the Square would be felt.

4. That the five sites within the disposal portfolio, details in the report, be offered to the market once the related planning applications have been determined.

Again I reinforced the point that this process was to gain valuations so that Councillors could decide if they wanted to dispose of them and for what purpose?  Let me assure readers that these assets will not be disposed off if the valuations a low due to the current climate.

6. That a Cabinet sub-committee be established to replace and take over the remit of the Accommodation Working Group and that the members comprise of Myself, Cllr Small and an invitation be extended to Cllr Eastham from the opposition.

7. That a final report be brought back to a future meeting of the full Council before contractual commitment is given to the final format of the Councils office and civic accommodation project. Such a report to include the full financial implications for the Council, including current costings at the time.

Again it is important to point out that the Council has been kept fully informed at every stage of the process and I have worked closely with their nominated representative Cllr Eastham.  Surprisingly after almost an hour of debate the opposition again chose to abstain from any vote! 

It is vital that the Council gains value for money for this project to ensure that no cost falls onto the Council Tax Payer.  The current accommodation is inadequate, energy ineffecient and not able to be used by the public.  The new civic centre will aim to be as cost effective to runand maintain as possible, will have full access to the public for Community use and have fit for purpose offices which will enable us to adopt modern working practices to further improve services and efficiancey whilst at the same time giving our employees sound working conditions.

To simply stay where we are and not build the extension would require a minimum investment of 2.5 million pounds to simply attempt to bring the Town Hall up to an acceptable standard, I believe this would be a short term solution and would be throwing good money after bad.  A full refurbishmwnt of the current Town Hall is expected to cost up to 10 million pounds a figure far higher than we would be prepared to go.  Having said that, if all the previous Councils since 1974 had simply put aside a sum and had a proper asset mangement programme for the Town Hall then it would not have fallen into the sad state of disrepair it is in today and we would not be facing such a tough decision!

In respect of the planning applications to be submitted in August for our 6 sites: North Beach Car Park, the Former CVMU site, Adult Training Site, Public Offices, Wesham Offices and Town Hall these will be used simply to seek a valuation from the market.  A positive decision towards these applications DOES NOT mean that the Council will agree to sell them.  If the valuations fall short of what is required for this project then the Council may consider to lease their offices in the future.  This would enable us to retain these assets until the market has recovered, allowing us to use remaining Capital Receipts to invest in Council infrastructure improvements across the Fylde.

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