Decision making at the Town Hall

On the council’s website is the report “Town Hall Accommodation Review - Evaluations of Options” signed by the Chief Executive and the Head of Finance setting out five options ranging from staying in the present Town Hall to moving all the council services out to Prospect House on the outskirts of the town. The recommended option in the report is to move the Customer First facility to somewhere else in the town centre and everything else in Prospect House.

The report was prepared apparently for submission to the Cabinet on March 20, 2012, and then the Full Council on March 27, 2012, for their approval.

However the report states that a provisional agreement had already been made to form a Joint Venture (JV) with the Homes and Community Agency (HCA) to develop the existing Town Hall and the Futurist as one site and the report infers that £3 million pounds had already been received from the HCA for this purpose. Under this agreement the council has to put the Town Hall plus £2 million pounds in cash plus the Futurist site into the JV by March 31, 2013. (The HCA putting in the £3 million plus a further £1 million in equity).

The report also states “A draft planning brief for the development of the Town Hall and Futurist site has been prepared and is out to consultation”. This must have been started weeks if not months earlier.

At the end of the report under the heading “Action Plan”, is the following: “Agree Heads of Terms with HCA”, “Enter into documentation with HCA to formalise the Joint Venture” both to be done by March 31, 2012.

It seems to me that Cabinet and council were both expected to simply “rubber stamp” these officers’ recommended option.

Incidentally there is no mention in the report of any intention to carry out a formal public consultation. On the council webpage regarding the public consultation which was carried out in April/May, the groups to be consulted were “General Public”, “Local Businesses”, “Local Residents” and “Statutory Bodies” only. So why were the “employees” and “councillors” included?

If these two groups are excluded what percentage in the consultation would have wanted to keep the existing Town Hall?

I agree with an earlier reported comment that some of the financial information in the report is confusing and inconsistent. Just two examples:

1) £1.78 million is to be taken from a council fund to help finance the move to (and upkeep of) Prospect House, so why cannot this money be used towards the maintenance of the exisiting Town Hall? I calculate that this would reduce the income required for this by £142,000.

2) The report states that if the option recommended is agreed and the exisiting Town Hall is transferred into the Joint Venture, “the council will forego the capital receipt for the Historic Building (£1.25 million circa)”. Does this mean that moving to a new Town Hall will cost the town another £1.25million? If so I can find no mention of this in the costings.

J Butterfield

Lady Edith’s Park