Bradley Stoke Town Council’s controversial project to build itself a new £400k office is now well under way after excavators moved onto the site at the Jubilee Centre last month.
The new office, once completed, will replace premises that the Council currently rents at The Courtyard, within the Almondsbury Business Park in the north of the town.
The go-ahead for the new-build project was given in January last year, following a consultation exercise in which the public were asked to choose between three similar proposals based at the Jubilee Centre pitched against a fourth option of “continuing to rent office space”.
The decision to proceed with the project was secured via a narrow 6-4 vote, following which two of the Councillors who had voted against asked the Clerk to record in the minutes that they considered it to be “a misuse of public funds”.
The new office, for which planning permission was granted in September 2011, will provide 204sqm of internal space for seven members of staff (four full-time, three part-time).
The building will also provide a public, externally accessible, toilet facility for users of the children’s play park on the nearby Jubilee Green.
Current estimates for the cost of the project amount to £292k but the final cost to the Council is likely to be closer to £400k once consultants’ fees, in-house project management costs, moving expenses and loan interest charges are added on.
Prior to the building of the Willow Brook Centre, the Town Council had aspirations to relocate its office to the “new town centre”, where it would be more accessible to members of the public. Plans published by Tesco showed a ‘Council Drop-In Centre’ in one of the Town Square units and South Gloucestershire Council said it was looking into the possibility of sharing office space with the town Council. However, the idea was quietly dropped as the planning concept evolved.
A surprise announcement in September 2008 revealed that the Town Council had signed ‘heads of agreement’ terms to rent office space on the first floor of the Willow Brook Centre but a few months later it backed out of the deal, saying that it was investigating the possibility of adding a new first-floor extension to the Jubilee Centre. That idea was later scrapped when Councillors realised that it would put much of the Jubilee Centre out of service during construction work.
The public consultation on the ‘Town Council Office Location’, conducted from October to December 2010, attracted criticism from some quarters as it failed to mention the Willow Brook Centre as a candidate location. Responding to a question from a member of the public a Council meeting on 17th November 2010, Mayor Ben Walker insisted that the consultation’s ‘Option 3’ (“Continue to rent office space”) included the possibility of renting at the Willow Brook Centre but minutes of a previous meeting held on 21st July 2010 confirm that Council had decided that the only alternative to building/extending at the Jubilee Centre should be “Continuing to rent office space at our current location“.
Two of the four Councillors who voted against the new build project (Ernie Brown and Morgan Baynham, both Conservative) did not seek re-election at the May 2011 election, while a third, Jon Williams (Liberal Democrat), failed to get re-elected. The fourth opponent was Cllr Rob Jones (Conservative), Mayor at the time of the aborted proposal to move to the Willow Brook Centre in 2008.
For Cllr Tom Aditya, one of the ‘new face’ Councillors elected last year, the new building isn’t grand enough for a town the size of Bradley Stoke. At last May’s Planning Committee meeting, where the pre-submission plans were revealed, he questioned why they didn’t include a Council Chamber and Mayor’s Office. His appeal failed to gain support from his fellow Councillors, one of whom advised him: “as Conservatives, we are renowned for looking after [the taxpayer’s] money”. Councillors subsequently voted 6-1 in favour of the plans being submitted to South Gloucestershire Council.
Councillors have since agreed that up to £100k can be taken from unallocated reserves to pay for the new office, leaving up to £300k to be funded by a Public Works Loan over 10, 15 or 20 years.
According to an article in the recently distributed Town Council newsletter, building of the new office is expected to be completed by mid-July.
Photo: Work to construct an extension to the Jubilee Centre car park, to replace parking spaces lost to the new office, got under way in January.
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