Letter: Council offices - Finding a better way forward

Harrogate Council building.
Harrogate Council building.

Many people in the town will know of the Harrogate Civic Society’s opposition to the proposal which the council voted for on July 15 to vacate the Crescent Gardens Offices and spend a large sum of money on new-build offices on the Knapping Mount/Brandreth House site.

To outline in a nutshell, our reasons were (and still are) that borrowing £7m of council funds (our Council Tax money) to be paid back over 30 years for a new building is unwise.

Selling Crescent Gardens and taking our ‘Town Hall’ away from its convenient town centre location and denying the history of council administration since 1871 is wrong. Along with these reasons, the valuable Knapping Mount/Brandreth House site could have been sold for much-needed housing.

There is also discussion currently about the future of local government in Yorkshire – how will a re-organisation fit in with the new multi-million pound building? The consultation on the project last year was biased and did not produce a convincing result in favour.

On July 1, the civic society and others arranged a well-attended public meeting which attracted many members of the public who spoke up against the re-location scheme. No-one at the meeting expressed views contrary to our own and, as a result, a group has been formed to continue opposition to the plans, especially regarding the secrecy surrounding the project. We were not even allowed to know the uses that the bids for Crescent Gardens proposed. Although this newspaper told us that the successful bid was for a hotel, I don’t think this information was released officially.

It is our belief that the council hierarchy always wanted a hotel at Crescent Gardens - therefore the ‘bids’ procedure was largely a waste of time. The group opposing the re-location project for all the above reasons is called ‘Harrogate’s Heritage Campaign’ and are working hard to find a better way forward. The civic society attempted to get the Crescent Gardens building listed as an Asset of Community Value. Our application was accepted by the council (who are wholly responsible for making the decision), but the decision was to not list the building. There is no appeal mechanism against such a decision – rather a ‘Judge and Jury’ situation, it being a council owned building, wouldn’t you say?

Henry Pankhurst,

Harrogate Civic Society