Sale of Town Hall will hit at the heart of the community

OPEN letter to the Leader and all Councillors of Scarborough Borough Council.

Re: Sale of Scarborough Town Hall to the Homes and Communities Agency.

I am writing at the urgent request of members to support the Chamber of Trade’s objections and to ask Councillors to carefully reconsider this shocking and surprise proposal, one which we believe has the potential to seriously damage both the civic and economic heart of our community. We believe that the relocation of the Town Hall which is a significant economic multiplier, employing over 340 well paid staff to an out of town location will have far reaching consequences and will materially affect the financial viability of the town centre retail area and we would certainly challenge the reporting officer’s view that economic effect would be negligible.

We would therefore ask you to consider the following:

1 There has been no opportunity for any public consultation.

2 It is not clear as to whether the maintenance figures published are for capital projects or general wear and tear in either case they seem rather high. As an example a figure of £3.5 million amortised over 25 years amounts to £140,000 per annum, this does not seem an excessive sum over the given time period, particularly when balanced against the annual economic loss published at £840,000 or £21m over 25 years (we consider this figure to be low.)

3 The reality of economic damage to the Town Centre, we understand that the figures and data used in the calculation of loss, were collected in a survey which was undertaken during the month of January, a period when spending is at its most depressed. Furthermore it is not only the staff spends that should be considered but also that of the many daily visitors coming to and from the Town Hall, this traffic increases foot fall and therefore spend. We are also aware that the after work celebrations and other post work social activities are a valuable income generator to local businesses.

4 Relocating some 5 miles West of the town center and outside the main Public transport loop will cause severe inconvenience to those residents wishing to access the Town Hall, Councillors and volunteers required to attend meetings and also those council officers and employees visiting town center locations as part of their work routine. Each and every journey will require the use of a car, which seems to be neither economically sensible or environmentally sound, particular when combined with A64 summer congestion and a point to point travelling time of around 45 minutes.

5 Civic disconnection, we believe that the removal of all vestiges of the councils operations from the town urban area particularly the civic aspect will create a disconnect between the administration and the people it serves.

6 We suspect that the majority of official visitors, potential investors and dignitaries who will be arriving for their meetings at the new “Out of Town, Town Hall” will get no further than the Morrison’s Roundabout at Eastfield, the majority will probably leave without ever setting eyes on our beautiful town, beaches and coastline.

7 As was made clear at a recent Town Team meeting by the Sands developer Roland Duce only three months ago, “There are currently no monies available for large scale urban development projects.” To move forward with this most sensitive of proposals without a hard and firm commitment from a reputable developer is, high risk policy in extremis.

8 Bearing in mind the above Councillors might wish to consider the following options. To include the redevelopment of the Town Hall into the King Street / Futurist scheme. My understanding is that the inclusion of a strong financial cornerstone covenant or perhaps a joint funding partner would be an attractive proposition to a developer. Alternatively you could consider retaining the civic aspect in the original section of the Town Hall moving only the administration element to new premises.

9 Successful urban renaissance requires the concentration of viable assets into the urban center of mass creating a strong, viable and sustainable economic heart. The potential loss of the only significant employer at the very time when a major retailer (Tescos) is planning to almost double the environs available retail space does not in our opinion support a sustainable urban policy.

The list is lengthy and impassioned and it is clear from the calls that I have taken over the past two days that feelings run high.

As a business group we do of course recognise that the Council is attempting to save money and this is commendable, however a decision of this magnitude and far reaching consequence, cannot in all good faith be made without proper public consulation and certainly not in only 7 days. In the words of one of our members; “This would be an act of civic vandalism.”

Over the past two years I have visited over 25 Town Halls in support of various Heroes Welcome Launches. In every case the Town Hall has been located in the heart of the community it serves and all are extremely proud of their Town Hall buildings holding them in high reverence. Even Huntingdonshire’s smart new build district council offices which incorporate the civic chamber is located in their central urban area. Yesterday I was at Worksop Town Hall with over 150 representatives from political, military and civic bodies for the launch of Heroes Welcome in Bassetlaw. The Chairman of the Council spoke warm and loving words about his district and particularly the historic significance of the chamber we were seated in. He then mentioned that the home of the scheme was Scarborough and as a native Yorkshireman this was a place he knew and loved he also made mention of the fact that we are fortunate to enjoy one of the most beautiful Town Halls in the country.

Finally it is worth remembering that this unique building which is our Scarborough Town Hall was in fact inspired by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin the architect responsible for the Palace of Westminster, home to Parliament.

John Senior

South Bay Traders Association