The Interim Director of Finance and Resources presented the Town Hall Hub Refurbishment – Final Decision Report for the Committee’s consideration.
Members were advised that the report updated the Executive Committee on progress on the movement of the Town Hall to a Community Hub since the previous report on this subject was considered on 11th October 2022. The report requested approval for spending to increase by £1 million to reflect the final design, with this to be financed through the Public Works Loans Board (PWLB) and funded from savings over and above the £400,000 requirement in the Medium Term Financial Plan for the 2025/26 financial year.
The report detailed:
· Progress on the NHS Space,
· Final design RIBA Stage 3 drawings,
· Updated costs based on these RIBA Stage 3 designs, and
· That moving the Town Hall to a “Community Hub” was in line with Government guidance to “collect” public services in one place.
The NHS had been working on site since the start of 2023. They were now running through their final snagging process and services were expected to start operating from the site towards the end of October 2023. The NHS had invested significant sums for the delivery of Mental Health services from the hub. Handover was expected to take place on the 25th September 2023.
For the remainder of the space in the basement, ground and first floors, the Council had been in negotiations with Worcestershire County Council. This had been in parallel with the Library consultation that the County Council had undertaken. Worcestershire County Council had approved the move at their Cabinet meeting held in July 2023.
Significant work had been undertaken with Worcestershire County Council and their subtenants to ensure the design delivered to their existing requirements and at RIBA Stage 3 all partners had signed off that the design met their requirements. There was no reduction of space or facilities for the Library or the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), with ongoing revenue costs being no higher than existing 2022/23 revenue costs for running the existing library site. Any requirements over and above the core existing services were chargeable. An example of this was a separate lobby for the DWP which was up for negotiation.
There was significant additional documentation in the appendices, with the greatest change for the Council being the movement of the Civic Suite from the Ground Floor to the Second floor. Planning permission for the changes was agreed on the 27th July 2023. A remaining key change that would be needed would be an improvement to access to the building from the disabled parking bays in the Town Hall car park.
Costs of the detailed design had increased from the estimated £5.2 million, as reported to the Executive Committee in October 2022, to £6.2 million.
Redditch Borough Council and Worcestershire County Council had signed:
· Reciprocating Heads of Terms
· Reciprocating 125 year leases
Work was proceeding on assessing locations and the scale of interim arrangements for Council and Committee meetings and staff decanting.
Members subsequently discussed the content of the report in detail and in doing so commented on the following matters:
· The move of the civic suite to the second floor of the Town Hall and whether the pillars in that part of the building would obstruct the view of some meeting participants. Officers noted that there were challenges with the conversion of this part of the building and these had been discussed with group leaders throughout the process.
· The appearance of the new Council Chamber on the second floor of the Town Hall and the extent to which the Council would be investing in new fixtures and fittings.
· The potential for the final Heads of Terms documents with Worcestershire County Council to be shared with Members.
· The financial costs arising from the move of the library to the Town Hall and the extent to which Redditch Borough Council would be liable to cover some of these costs.
· The ICT support requirements for the civic suite in the Town Hall and what this would entail. Officers explained that this related to video conferencing and live streaming equipment and software and Members would need to determine in due course whether to invest in a more professional audio visual system than the current arrangements in place at the Council.
· The need for the Council to future proof hybrid meeting arrangements to take into account potential changes to local government meeting arrangements in future.
· The additional works required in respect of the remodelling of the disabled parking bays in the Town Hall car park and the extent to which there were particular risks arising for wheelchair users.
· The use of indicative plans at this stage in the process and how these should be interpreted.
· The purpose of the street walkway referred to in one of the plans.
· The additional support required by the DWP and the likely costs arising from these requirements, which would be subject to negotiation.
· The extent to which a sensory room, which had been referenced at an early stage of the process, would be provided in the children’s section of the library. Members were advised that the choice as to whether to include a sensory room in the library would need to be made by Worcestershire County Council’s Library Services.
· The asset valuations referred to in the report and whether these were likely to change in light of changes to inflation. Officers explained that higher and lower prices had been factored into the costings and there would be a threshold below which sales would not be made.
· The views that had been expressed by the public on social media with regard to the move of the library from its current site in the town centre to the Town Hall Hub.
· The debate that had been held at the Planning Committee meeting earlier in the year in respect of an application for the Town Hall Hub.
· Previous proposals for the redevelopment of the Town Hall.
During consideration of this item, Members noted that the report had been pre-scrutinised at a meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 7th September 2023. At that meeting, scrutiny Members had agreed a recommendation on the subject of the Town Hall Hub. Members discussed this recommendation, and concerns were raised that the action proposed in the recommendation would delay progress with the project. It was acknowledged that projected financial costs had increased since October 2022, but Members also noted that the figures presented the previous year had been based on the best estimates available at that time. In this context, it was noted that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s recommendation on this subject would not be accepted.
An alternative proposal to the second recommendation in the report was subsequently proposed by Councillor Joe Baker as follows:
“That the Council does not agree to the £1 million loan and instead Officers are asked to amend plans to reduce the costs, and the hub be reduced in size, so that the library is not included in the hub and the project can then be delivered for £5.2 million.”
This alternative recommendation was proposed by Councillor Baker and seconded by Councillor Bill Hartnett.
In proposing the alternative recommendation, Councillor Baker explained that it took into account the proposal that had been made at the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. He expressed concerns that an additional £1 million would need to be invested in order to accommodate the needs of the library. By not including the library in the hub, Councillor Baker suggested that the financial costs involved in delivering the project would be reduced but the town would still retain a valuable community hub from which various public services could be accessed.
In seconding the alternative recommendation, Councillor Hartnett commented that he was concerned about the impact that the additional funding would have on the Council’s finances moving forward. Members were asked to consider halting this expenditure and reviewing their plans at this stage, whilst there was still a chance to make a change. Councillor Hartnett also questioned whether this additional investment would represent value for money for Redditch Borough Council, given Library Services were the responsibility of Worcestershire County Council.
The Committee subsequently discussed the proposed alternative recommendation and in doing so commented on the following points:
· The additional income that the Council could expect to receive as a result of taking the action proposed in the report and how this would offset the additional £1 million costs in a relatively short period of time.
· The extent to which the proposed additional £1 million funding had been reported for the consideration of the Council’s auditors. Officers confirmed that the Council’s external auditors were provided with copies of Council reports for consideration and no feedback had been received from the auditors expressing concerns about this project.
· The potential for the financial costs involved in delivering a large project such as this to rise over time due to the impact of inflation, changes to the availability of resources and other unexpected pressures.
· The impact that not moving the library into the Town Hall would have on Council income and the extent to which this would have a negative impact on the Council’s financial position moving forward.
On being put to the vote, the alternative recommendation was defeated.
1) the Town Hall Refurbishment Capital Budget be increased to £6.2 million;
2) the £1 million difference from the original approved budget be funded through PWLB debt financed via the additional income, over and above what is in the Medium Term Financial Plan, being delivered; and
3) authority be delegated to the Interim Director of Finance and Resources to enter into the consequential contractual arrangements.
(During the consideration of this item, Members discussed matters that necessitated the disclosure of exempt information. It was therefore agreed to move to exclude the press and public prior to any debate on the grounds that information would be revealed relating to the financial and business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information). However, there is no exempt information in this record of the debate).