Note of caution
Although the members of the Harrogate council have listened to the no doubt ‘robust’ presentation of the cost effective benefits of building themselves some nice new offices may I express some caution.
I seem to recall that the cost of building the Harrogate Conference Centre would be fully met by the sale of some council owned land off Skipton Road that became the Jennyfield estate.
Unfortunately the cost rose considerably over the next few years by a factor of twenty fold even without taking into consideration the cost of servicing the loans then required to complete it.
The office proposal requires the disposal of five sites and includes the potential returning of the Crescent Gardens building to its original tourism roots and become a world class boutique hotel. Have they received any clear expressions of interest for this development from any hotel developers or is this a pie in the sky guess?
Given the proximity of the Hotel St George, the Majestic Hotel, the Crown Hotel, the Swan Hotel and the Cairn Hotel is there space for more beds or is the view that the Hotel du Vin and other smaller but individual hotels can not cater for the boutique clientele?
At a proposed cost estimated at £7.9m to £8.9m there is considerable scope for the development to acquire considerable extra unexpected costs as we have experienced before.
Everyone agrees that HBC need to consolidate their office accommodation and with an optimistic mind I attended the June 19 Councils Cabinet meeting on the issue.
Two schemes were tabled:
Option 5 - Consolidating into the existing Crescent Gardens, Springfield House and Scotsdale primary cost £4.8m and selling the other sites.
Option 8 - A new office block on the Brandreth, Knapping Mount site primary cost £7.9m and selling all but Springfield which would be long-leased.
Cabinet appeared to vote unanimously for Option 8 a total new build.
Sadly there was no discussion of the culture, traditions or heritage of Harrogate as a major spa town.
The fact that local government has been based in and around Crescent Gardens for over 200 years was not considered.
The need for Conservation Area Consent to demolish Brandreth and Knapping Mount was not appraised. Option 5 was overloaded by 54 per cent with the retention of Springfield House but no consideration in Option 8 to illustrated a similar lettable overload.
The new build office illustrations looked more appropriate for Hornbeam Park than Harrogate’s central Conservation Area.
I could go on about the anomalies, imbalances and risks which I hope all councillors will identify and discuss fully at the next council meeting on July 18.
My main point is that with a little vision and creativity the two schemes might be merged to achieve the Best of Both Worlds.
Namely, remodel Crescent Gardens as the frontline Civic Centre, complementing the Royal Hall and Royal Baths and build a new primary staff-complex adjacent to Brandreth House, having demolished Knapping Mount.
This respects the culture/heritage/tradition bequeathed us by our forefathers and provides a consolidated dynamic council facility for the future.
Retaining the qualities of past generations, in the present, whilst sowing seeds for the future generations.
Not in favour
These are my thoughts on the proposal to move the Council Offices to one site. I am not in favour of moving to one site.
I think the best option is to move to the three sites i.e. Council Offices, Springfield House & Scottsdale House. I would have thought that the sale of Knapping Mount for housing and Victoria Avenue would bring in the most money.
Is there really a market for office blocks such as Springfield and Scottsdale? Remember Harrogate House on Parliament Street was an office block and is now apartments.
The money gained could go towards modernising Crescent Gardens Offices and adding another floor.
With the way Local Government is going by merging services with other authorities, working from home, IT modernisation, then less staff will be needed in time.
If you build one new office block at Knapping Mount for the current number of staff and then staff are reduced, you are left with empty floors. Whereas by using three office blocks which you own, then you are able to sell one if staff are reduced.
I do feel strongly that the historic heart of Harrogate will be lost if the Crescent Gardens Council Offices are sold for a boutique hotel.
The history and grandeur of interior and exterior of the building would be lost for ever.
What would happen to the superb wooden panelled Council Chamber? Would you be able to get planning permission for change of use from offices to a hotel ?
In James Street, you can not get planning permission for change of use from a retail shop to a restaurant/deli! Have the staff been consulted about these proposals and their preferred options?
Please think again about this move.