Plan for New £60 Million HQ for Hounslow Council

Opposition councillor urges caution before huge spend

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A new £60 million headquarters for Hounslow Council may be built at Bath Road in the centre of Hounslow within the next four years.

Councillors will be asked this week to give the go-ahead to invite tenders for a new building at the Bath Road car-park. The plan is to sell the land on which the existing centre is built for housing. The proceeds would partly finance the new one with borrowing being used to fund the balance.

The Council say that there would be savings per annum of over a million pounds a year in running costs. The current Civic Centre, which was built in the seventies, is less than half occupied.

Cllr Sam Hearn, a member of the opposition Conservative group on the Council, said that, given the scale of the project, it needed to researched fully before progressing. He cited the case of the Conference Centre extension to the Civic Centre which cost £4 million of public money and had proven to be a "vanity project driven forward by a completely out of touch administration".

"Selling the existing site at a good price is a key part of the project plan. It must be clearly stated where any profits on the Lampton Road sale are to go and what annual savings in annual and life-cycle costs are planned to be generated," Cllr Hearn commented.

Building Example for the New Headquarters

The Conservative Group had been told that there was a covenant on the land in Lampton Road that meant it could never be sold off for development. The issue of the covenant had now been thoroughly researched by LBH Lawyers and it turns out to have been "poppy-cock" in the words of Cllr Hearn.

The Lampton Road centre is regarded as being too costly to maintain with annual running costs of around £2.3 million and is an inefficient use of space - one recent survey found that just two-fifths of the building was being utilised. Outsourcing services has led to fewer employees at headquarters.

The building requires a further £17 million of urgent maintenance works according to a detailed report which will be seen by councillors this week. It says maintenance forecasts cost for the Bath Road car park site would be much lower, at £1.3 million per annum.

A cabinet meeting on Tuesday will be asked to give the go-ahead to seek tenders for a new centre, on Bath Road Car park in Hounslow Town Centre, to be opened in 2018. The tendering exercise cost is estimated at £400,000.

The Council report says a new building in the centre would provide a boost to the regeneration of Hounslow High Street through greater footfall of staff and residents and the Council would be able to combine the library and community resource centre with the new Civic Centre to create a "strong community space".

"It will bring to an end the isolation of the Civic HQ from the commercial centre of the Town," the report concludes.

If councillors give the go-ahead for financing the tendering, an updated business case supported by firm tenders is to then be presented back to Cabinet by latest June 2015 to consider award of contract to proceed.

The report says residents will benefit by having a Civic Centre that is fit for purpose and new housing that will contribute to the Council's housing target by summer 2018.

It is intended that the cost of any new Civic Centre will be funded in part from
the sale of the Lampton Road site for housing development. However it is unclear how much money would be raised from the sale of the existing site. Interest costs and the cost of
repaying principal on borrowing will need to be funded from the Council’s revenue budget and be included in the costs of the project.

Cllr Hearn said that the Conservative group had pioneered the strategy of downsizing and moving out of the Lampton Road site as far back as 2006 but before the local election that year the Labour council had spent £4 million on the extension to the Civic Centre, despite claims from his party that no proper research had been carried out.

He said, "There must be a fully worked through transition plan so that there is absolutely no diminution of the quality of service to the public during the project's life cycle.

"Before moving out of the Civic Centre there needs to be a detailed strategic plan that sets out the different ways of working that will be adopted in the new building.  The strategic plan will need to flexible to allow for scaleability (larger or smaller) and for the inevitable, technological and cultural changes over the life of the new building(s).

"There must be publicly stated targets for the operation of the new building and the services delivered by the staff located there. From Day 1 the new location must represent a quantum leap in improved services e.g. response times, turn round times and customer satisfaction. Residents must be able to receive a 7 day a week service for example.

"It must be clearly stated where any profits on the Lampton Road sale are to go and what annual savings in annual and life-cycle costs are planned to be generated.

"Finally we need to know what will happen to the pile of scrap iron (sorry work of public art) that sits outside the Lampton Road Civic Centre."

October 10, 2014