Shropshire Councillors yesterday voted to halt refurbishment work on its Shirehall headquarters and evaluate new civic centre locations in Shrewsbury.
In yesterday’s full council meeting, councillors voted, 44 votes in favour, to receive and agree a report: the ‘Shrewsbury Civic Centre Project’ and its four recommendations.
The report was not without some debate, however. Councillor Andy Boddington suggested an amendment to rename the report the ‘Shropshire Civil Centre Project’, worried about how Shrewsbury-centric the name was.
Councillor Peter Nutting, Shropshire Council Leader, deemed the amendment “totally unnecessary” and said that “the liberals are getting bankrupt of ideas”. In light of the proposed amendment, when the report was being introduced, councillors were assured by Councillor Steve Charmley, Shropshire Council Deputy Leader, that no decision about a final location in Shrewsbury had been finalised, let alone a name.
The amendment ultimately fell, with 38 votes against to 12 in favour and with one abstention.
Before approving the report, councillors also discussed, among other things, working from home, the environment and mental health.
Shirehall: A History
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.
In an earlier press release, Councillor Nutting explained 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 was also an item at yesterday’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 was item 9 on yesterday’s agenda. Possible new civic centre locations in Shrewsbury remain to be seen. In other news, Councillors also voted against further action on the controversial Robert Clive statue in Shrewsbury Square yesterday.