Town Hall saved

Scarborough Town Hall
Scarborough Town Hall
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The Town Hall will remain “at the heart of Scarborough” as members voted to stay at the historic building.

Its fate was sealed this afternoon as members of the full council threw out plans to relocate to a new site in Eastfield, despite facing a multi-million pound bill for running costs.

Now the cash-strapped authority faces the biggest overhaul of its working practices in its history as it gears up for a scheme to bring the crumbling Town Hall into the 21st century.

The vote was almost unanimous - with 46 members voting to remain at the building - however Cllr John Armsby, a ward councillor for Mulgrave, voted against the majority.

Now the cash-strapped authority faces the biggest overhaul of its working practices in its history.

The authority’s leader Tom Fox was the first to table the motion after admitting he had been “swayed” by the strong public reaction to the proposals.

He said: “First of all when I looked at this, I looked at it very coldly - bricks and mortar - and I didn’t put my heart and soul into it.

“The public and a couple of councillors have given me a conscience. Through the works and the consultation, I have no reservation in saying I have been suitably swayed in how people see this as a civic heart of this council and how that could be lost if it moves out of the town to Prospect House.”

However, echoing his comments from Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, he added that “standing still” was not an option due to the run-down state of the building’s 1960s annexe.

Calling for a new working group to be established which will examine the future needs of the council as its workforce continues to shrink, he added: “Members acknowledge that the current working environment is no longer acceptable.

“The working group needs to bring the building up to modern standards, which will involve significant investment. It might mean raising the 1960s annexe to the ground and starting afresh with a smaller building.”

The group will focus on bringing the building into the 21st century, and members agreed to pursue a £5.8million maintenance programme, as well as a £775,000 IT upgrade. A new “more efficient” way of working will also be explored.

Opposition councillors accused cabinet members of committing a u-turn, drawing attention to the the party’s push for a public consultation in March.

The authority was given just under a week to decide whether to accept a £3m offer from the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) which would have been used to buy the new site, in exchange for an equity share in the redevelopment of the Futurist and town hall sites.

However following huge public outcry, the council agreed to accept the money in principle and the proposal went out to consultation.

The leader of the council’s Labour group, Cllr Eric Broadbent, said: “On such a historical day, I just couldn’t believe this Con-Dem cabinet would consider taking this civic amenity out of town. I’m certainly pleased that this u-turn has happened. I’m pleased now the cabinet have decided to stay in Scarborough where we belong and that we are opening for business as usual.”

His comments were met with boos across the chamber.

The chairman of the council’s planning committee, Cllr Jane Mortimer, said: “It’s not a u-turn because a decision hadn’t been made. What we did is listen to the people of Scarborough. I think this is the right decision, not just for Scarborough but the whole borough.”

Senior officers at the council are now due to embark on urgent negotiations with Westminster to ensure the Government does not pull the plug on its £3m windfall.

The authority’s decision to remain at the building has thrown a question mark over whether the cash from the HCA will be available to redevelop the site and the nearby Futurist Theatre.

In a bid to offset the cost of the maintaining the building, options to generate funds were put forward by councillors, including utilising the town hall for events, such as weddings, functions and concerts.

Former tourism chief Cllr David Jeffels said: “We need to be mindful of the potential to come up with a development which will enhance Scarborough as a leading destination resort.”

The relocation of the Town Hall, which has been the base of civic services since the turn of the century, has been mooted for more than a decade.

Today’s decision brings to an end a long-running battle which has seen emotions run high across the town.

Speaking after the meeting Vanda Inman, from the Scarborough Town Action Group, which protested against the move, said: “I’m obviously really pleased with the decision. I think the next thing is to try and get the £3m for the Futurist. That’s part of our landscape and part of our heritage in Scarborough. We just hope they keep listening to the people of Scarborough.”

Councillors were set to discuss the development of the Futurist site, however members deferred the debate in light of the decision.

Patricia David, who has been battling to save the Futurist for many years, said: “I’m quite happy it has been put on the backburner because it provides a lot more opportunity for the public to contribute.”