The future of Harrogate’s landmark council offices buildings are set to be discussed at a public meeting next week.
With just two weeks before plans go before the full Harrogate Borough Council for final approval, Harrogate’s Civic Society, Chamber of Trade and Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses is calling on the council to give more information on it’s office move plans, particularly the future of the historic Crescent Gardens offices.
Henry Pankhurst from the Civic Society which has long opposed the council’s office move said: “There are a lot of unanswered questions about the relocation that the public need to know.
“There have been meeting with ‘pink papers’ exempt from the public, there should be public debate on this, people have a right to know what this landmark building could become.”
On June 17 Harrogate Council’s cabinet discussed a report on the ‘proposed disposal of council offices and land at crescent gardens’ behind closed doors
Council leader Richard Cooper said the council could not publicly disclose commercially sensitive information about the bids for the landmark building.
He said: “There have been several bids for various uses but as with all things like this they are commercially sensitive.
“Clearly if the council gets as a high price it can spend that money on local services, however that is not the only consideration. We are looking at the bids to see how they fit into how we believe the economy of Harrogate will develop going forward. It isn’t just about the money, but the future of the town as well.”
He added: “The building is also protected by planning laws, that beautiful exterior will remain as it is.”
The controversial proposals for Harrogate Borough Council to build new £9 million office complex at Knapping Mount has divided the council for the last two years.
If given the go ahead on July 15 the plans will see the council’s employees moved from five sites across the town, to one purpose built office which the council say could save the local authority up to £1 million per year.
Crescent Gardens, along with Springfield House, Victoria Park House and Scottsdale House offices would be sold off or leased out.
Crescent Gardens was built in the early 1930s on the site of the old Victorian baths which had been built in 1871 as a major tourist attraction for the town. Mr Pankhurst said he wants the public to retain access to the iconic town centre building.
He said: “I would like to see a mixed use for the building, not particularly a hotel but if it becomes flats there will be no public access at all. There should be access to some parts of the building, as a museum or gallery. We are also concerned what the council plan to do with the historical statues and other artefacts, there won’t be enough room to display it all at the Mercer Gallery.”
He added: “I am aware of one developer who had a mixed use plan which included apartments and a cafe, gym and museum turned down.
“We aren’t asking for the commercially sensitive data, just what the plans are for the building.”
Planning permission for the new building at Knapping Mount was granted in March.
Last year the council held a public consultation on the proposals which found that 57 per cent of respondents were in favour of the plans. However the results were later criticised as just 822 people responded.
Although no details on bids for the Crescent Gardens site are available, an estate agent told the Advertiser in January that it expected the building to sell for between £2 million and £5 million.
It is unclear if Councillors will be able to attend the meeting as it clashes with a member’s briefing on the Local Plan process.