Norfolk County Council leaders defend £22m bill to fix County Hall
12:59 09 July 2012
Council leaders have agreed to spend £22m to fix County Hall, insisting that repairing the building offers a better deal for taxpayers than moving the county council’s headquarters elsewhere.
Officers say it is essential that the money is spent on County Hall over the next 25 years for it to remain operational in the future, following a study into the state of the building in Martineau Lane, Norwich.
The report highlighted a desperate need for repairs to the concrete structural frame of the building, installation of wall and ceiling insulation, removal of asbestos, refurbishment of toilet blocks, improved lighting and fire alarms and conversion of floors to open plan working.
Since last year, the entrances of the offices, which opened in 1968, have been protected by canopies to shield the 1,200 or so staff and visitors from any threat of falling masonry.
The possibility of a new building elsewhere was examined by NPS Property Consultants on behalf of the county council, but has been rejected on cost grounds.
And, at a meeting at County Hall today, members of the controlling Conservative cabinet agreed to push ahead with the repair plan, which will see £14m spent over the next three years.
Cliff Jordan, cabinet member for efficiency, said: “We have all got houses which we do general maintenance on, but, every now and then, you have to do a bigger maintenance programme and that’s what this is.”
Alison Thomas, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “We have to make sensible decisions with Norfolk taxpayers’ money and clearly there were other options which would have taken us well over and above the £22m recommended here.
“We have to remember that we are an employer and we have staff in this building, particularly in children’s services, who have to cope with extremes of temperature, either being boiling hot or freezing cold and in the modern age staff shouldn’t be expected to work under extreme conditions.”
Richard Bearman, leader of the Green group had asked for assurance that the repair bill would not hit front-line services.
Other council leased or owned offices in and around Norwich look set to be closed, with staff switching to County Hall in an attempt to save about £2m a year.
Ian Mackie, deputy leader and cabinet member for finance and performance, said £1.5m for repairs over the next two years would come from money for capital projects which has not been used.
He said: “Whilst the report is not specific about future funding sources, I fully expect the costs to be met from a combination of capital slippage, capital receipts, savings from a smaller Norwich estate, and som euse of reserves allocated to building maintenance.
“Long term borrowing will only be used as a last resort and, where that is required, I would expect ongoing savings from rationalising the Norwich estate to meet any ongoing borrowing costs.
“No services will be affected, nor savings required from other departments to meet the maintenance costs.”
Members of the corporate resources and scrutiny panel will discuss the proposals tomorrow, with a final decision to be taken by full council on Monday, July 23.