Spending £2.7m on council meeting rooms, not a ‘vanity project’ say leaders
PUBLISHED: 12:25 07 September 2020 | UPDATED: 12:25 07 September 2020
Almost £3m is to be spent to revamp meeting rooms at Norfolk County Council’s County Hall headquarters, even though the authority is facing a £45m budget gap next year.
But members of the council’s Conservative-controlled cabinet, which agreed the spending at a meeting on Monday (September 7) defended the timing of the work on the council chamber and meeting rooms.
The council says the chamber and meeting rooms have been largely unchanged since County Hall opened in 1968 and the lack of air handling means they do not meet regulations around Covid-19.
While committee meetings are currently conducted virtually. it means face-to-face meetings in those rooms cannot resume until the work is done.
Greg Peck, cabinet member for property, said: “I think there’s been a lot of misrepresentation in the press about the maintenance work which needs to be done on the north wing and those rooms to bring it back into use.”
He said there was asbestos in the walls and no working air ventilation system, so councillors would not be able to use those rooms before a vaccine for coronavirus is found.
He said doing the work now, while much of County Hall is not being used because of Covid-19, would save money and prevent disruption to council activities.
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He said: “To do it later would cost a lot more money - probably between £100,000 and £250,000 just to do the planning work.”
And he said it could also bring cost savings, while bringing in money if the council was to rent the buildings out to community groups.
He said: “Prior to Covid-19, we were spending £1.2m annually on renting accommodation for seminars and other events, which required 50 to 100 people. Once this is done we would be able to accommodate that in County Hall.
“There’s a lot of fake news going around that it’s some sort of vanity project and it’s not that at all.”
The money will come from its existing capital accommodation budget, separate to the revenue budget used to provide services.
Andrew Jamieson, cabinet member for finance, had told the same meeting that next year’s budget was “particularly challenging” and that long-term sustainable funding for councils was essential.
Steve Morphew, leader of the opposition Labour group, said: “They claimed misrepresentation in the media and then went on to throw in a load of speculative, unquantified benefits.
“Nobody has said the work doesn’t need doing, but it is simply not going to be understood by the public any more than councllor allowance hikes or expanding car parking when there is a pandemic in progress.”
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