Shropshire Councillors will today consider a report on moving out of the Council’s Shirehall headquarters in Shrewsbury.
In today’s full council meeting, Councillors will consider a report: the ‘Shrewsbury Civic Centre Project’. It has four recommendations. If the full council approves these recommendations as they are, refurbishment work on Shirehall, Shropshire Council’s current headquarters, will stop and a full evaluation of potential new civic centre locations in Shrewsbury, as well as a potential disposal strategy for Shirehall, will take place.
Moving out of Shirehall has been on the cards for quite a while now.
However, following the ‘Shirehall Redevelopment and Refurbishment Report’, in December 2018, Councillors agreed, in principle, to the refurbishment of the entirety of Shirehall. The decision was not without some debate and the report’s recommendations were not exactly implemented, most notably with work to carry out appraisals on further options at no additional cost, which was not in the report, also resolved.
Shropshire Council states that the refurbishment was estimated to cost £24.1 million. Its website elsewhere states that the work would paid for by the ‘capital budget’ which, by law, can legally only be spent or invested in assets and infrastructure projects. An appraisal then, the webpage goes on to say, also “…demonstrated at a high level that Shirehall remains the most cost effective, lowest risk and quickest option to deliver.”
The refurbishment was set to be completed by Autumn 2021. But, Shropshire Council says that the development project was paused last autumn, in order to ensure that the future requirements for a civic centre involved a more thorough assessment of environmental and economic factors and a need for the council to review its financial strategy.
Councillor Peter Nutting, Leader of Shropshire Council, now explains that: “As a result of COVID-19 there has been a fundamental change in the way that staff have been working with most working at home or away from the office. This has enabled us to rethink our accommodation requirements and to question the need for a large amount of office space for staff in Shrewsbury.”
Shropshire Council says that over 95% of its staff have worked from home during the COVID-19 lockdown and over 90% of its staff have indicated a willingness to continue to do so.
The council’s financial outturn 2019/20, which is also an item at today’s meeting, states that “Following the decision to pause the Shirehall redevelopment project, previously incurred costs totalling £0.381m were charged to revenue. Repairs and maintenance of the estate remains a huge challenge; this budget was overspent by £1.032m, although this was offset by a reserve drawdown totalling (£0.966m); a one-off mitigation for this financial year.”
Councillor Steve Charmley, Assets, Economic Growth and Regeneration Cabinet Member, has said: “A new civic centre included in the wider development plans for the town centre could be used by the council and partners who seek similar benefits in terms of location, cost, carbon efficiency and more modern working environments. This in turn generates additional footfall and business for Shrewsbury town centre, helping to boost the economy of Shrewsbury and Shropshire.”
According to Shropshire Council, Shirehall generates more carbon emissions than any other building owned by Shropshire Council, the need for staff to take fewer longer journeys will significantly reduce carbon emissions and the investment required to retrofit carbon efficient infrastructure and reduce Shirehall’s carbon footprint will not be required if the council’s headquarters are significantly reduced in size and scale.
The report is item 9 of 21 on today’s agenda. What Councillors will approve of remains to be seen? Another topic being discussed today is the controversial Clive of India statue in Shrewsbury Square, including the possibility of holding a referendum on whether it should stay or go.