Town Hall closure - fears for shops

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A study commissioned by Scarborough Council estimated that £860,000 is spent by the local authority’s 340 Town Hall-based staff members in town centre shops annually.

Council officers have said the figure equates to just 0.6 per cent of annual expenditure in shops in Scarborough town centre, and claimed that the impact of a move on businesses would be small.

But others have said the figures do not take account of money spent by visitors to the civic hub, and pointed out that data was gained in January, when spending is traditionally depressed.

In the study, Darlington-based consultants England and Lyle found that the 248 council staff members who completed a survey had spent in a week in Scarborough:

£4,772 on lunch and food

£789 at the Post Office

£767 on leisure

£2,880 on non-food items

When the figures were used to calculate the total expenditure for the 340 employees, it was estimated that each council staff member spent just under £49 a week in shops in the town centre as well as visiting non-retail outlets such as banks and leisure outlets.

Janet Jefferson, who represents Castle Ward on Scarborough Council and is president of Scarborough and District Chamber of Trade, said the figures in the report only told part of the story.

“I read the report with great interest. My fears have not been assuaged by it. I am very, very concerned about the proposed move,” she added.

“There are 340 people who work at the Town Hall but there are many others who visit it. They must use the restaurants, cafes and everything else while they’re here.”

Cllr Jefferson also raised concerns about the accuracy of the consultants’ figures, given the time of year that the survey was carried out.

“That time is the quietest of the whole year,” she said. “People have just bought Christmas presents and many still have food in. They’re waiting for payday.”

The council announced late on Thursday that it had been approached by the Homes and Community Agency, which had offered £3 million to help the council relocate.

In exchange, the agency will receive an equity stake in a joint venture to develop the Town Hall and Futurist sites.

Nicholas Edwards, the council’s head of finance and asset management, has claimed that the relocation of the Town Hall could eventually have a positive impact on Scarborough town centre, as a new development could bring even more people and investment into the area.

The Town Hall site could be transformed into offices, a retail or leisure development or a hotel.

Mr Edwards said: “Notwithstanding the time of year of the survey it is considered that information collected provides a robust estimate of expenditure levels on which to base an estimate of likely impact.

“If the council was to relocate its services and employees from the Town Hall site to an out of town location it could potentially result in the loss of this level of retail expenditure from the town centre.

“Whilst this could have some adverse impact on turnover of shops in the town centre, the scale of this loss, as a proportion of overall retail turnover in the town centre, is very small.

“It would not therefore result in a significant adverse impact on the turnover of the shops and the vitality and viability of Scarborough town centre as a whole.”

The council’s cabinet will discuss the proposed move today, with the full council expected to vote on Friday.

It is believed that the council is proposing to move to the old Scarborough Building Society headquarters, near Morrisons supermarket.

A group against the relocation of Scarborough’s Town Hall has been set up. The as yet unnamed group will hold its first meeting at the Opera House Casino in St Thomas Street, tomorrow at 7pm.