Agenda item

Accommodation Project

To consider the attached report (C-016-2019-20).


*Appendix 1 for this report is attached as a private document as it relates to detailed financial and business affairs of this authority.


(1)        Cabinet noted and approved the progression of the refurbishment of the Civic Offices as the main office for EFDC staff and partners; and


(2)        That the Cabinet approved the decision not to pursue the construction of a new build office on the North Weald Airfield.



The Interim Strategic Director, Sacha Jevans, gave a short presentation on the design and refurbishment of the Civic Offices to the Cabinet.


The meeting noted that the April 2019 Cabinet decision and subsequent additional requests from members for more detailed information (specifically greater guarantees on the cost benefit case of a new build) led to more detailed work across the four workstreams:


(i)  Refurbishment of Civic Offices;

(ii)  Sale of land at the back of Conder Building;

(iii)  Recruitment of partner/tenants for the civic offices;

(iv)  Construction of new building.


The agility and mobility of the EFDC workforce enabled by digital improvement and a cultural shift in ways of working has been significant and achieved at pace. The elements of the People Strategy that had greatest impact include the investment in the Common Operating model and the Decision Making and Accountability model (DMA) implementation where restructures have focussed on Management and Leadership skills. Our people were working in ways that are more Customer Focussed, Effective and Efficient. A positive outcome of this work is the opportunity to evaluate the current organisation shape and working methods of our people and then revisit accommodation options before further decisions were made.


The further work undertaken on the four workstreams has led to a recommendation to reconsider the construction of a new office favouring the option to refurbish the Civic Offices as the main EFDC office.


The business case for the refurbishment of the Civic Offices for a mixed use of office letting and EFDC use was now complete. The new design plans demonstrated that if the building was refurbished to create more open plan space then all (required) EFDC staff can be accommodated on a 7:10 ratio in the Civic Offices without the need to move or build an alternative office.   This decision would negate the cost of building a new office and reduce the operating cost of maintaining two buildings.  Maximising the use of the Civic Offices through refurbishment would also expedite the vacation of the Conder building for redevelopment through the new Development Company.


Councillor S Kane had concerns about the proposed café, he asked how it would be run, could the space be better used, and would the proposed Conference facility be hired out, along perhaps with this chamber. He was told that work had been done on the potential for the rental of the café and work had proceeded on that basis, but his points were noted, and further work had to be carried out. As for the conference facility it would be for both our use and also to be hired out.


Councillor Patel asked if the conference facility had been market tested. He was told that it had been.


Councillor Jon Whitehouse liked the idea of having the conference space to use. However what advice would we give about parking. Also, what about the library and the floor space for that compared to what it has now, it looks like a smaller space; and how could we ensure it being identified as a library externally and not just be buried in the building. The Chief Executive replied that the spaces of the Library and the Café were interlinked. The café space was originally for the library, but we have since identified this new space with Essex CC. Part of the attraction was having the library with the café space. This space was intended for public use and for staff and partner use; the library people said that it was an attraction to have the café space that could be accessed in both ways through the building. The spaces were here tonight for comment also that interest had been expressed in having the café space run as a café/restaurant, as an evening venue. So, this would in effect lengthen the high street from here up to Tesco, taking in the St John’s site. The floor space would depend on how the negotiations went and the requirements they would have.


Councillor Chris Pond noted that the attraction to Essex CC was that they could sell of the existing building. However, the space we would provide for a library does not look to be enough for a town the size of Epping. There were also enough coffee shops in Epping at present and he did not share the Chief Executive’s view that this would elongate the high road and in any high road the shops at each end were the least successful.


Councillor Philip thought the idea of elongating the High Street was a good one, but it depended on what you had at each end. There was question on whether the size of the café and library was appropriate but having public spaces in those areas made a lot of sense, particularly if they were linked internally in the building. He asked if it was the intention to use the new conference room area in place of Committee Room 1&2. He was told it was. He went on to say that part of the change would be to accelerate what we proposed to do with the Conder building and provide accommodation on this site more quickly.


Councillor Kaufman noted that there were problems with the layout of the ground floor, the café was oversized and looked more like a restaurant. It was good idea to have a mixed-use building, but he would like to have the library bigger and the café smaller. The Leader noted that the library size would be down to the Essex CC and their requirements. We were currently completely flexible on the size of the café. This would also go to Overview and Scrutiny in November and you will be able to see the latest progress we have made in our discussions.


Councillor Sartin said that there were concerns raised about separating the Community Hub and really all members needed a briefing, perhaps as a stand-alone session. The Leader noted that there was an opportunity for members tonight as well as at Overview and Scrutiny in November. There were still ongoing discussions with the existing partners, and the big benefit was having new ways of working.


Councillor Janet Whitehouse said that she still did not have a picture of what the library would look like. The Leader replied that they were not down to that level of detail as yet. Councillor Neville said that they needed more library to café space.


Councillor Murray said that members should put pressure on the County Council to ask for the library to be enlarged.


The Interim Strategic Director went on to inform the meeting about the proposed changes to the first floor.


Councillor Chris Pond, speaking as a former Trade Union representative thought the second-floor changes did not provide a good working environment for the staff. Agile working did not have to be cramped working. The Leader said that in reality the layout did work really well. Councillor Pond replied that it would be nice for members to actually see the spaces as they did not know the layout of the building all that well. The Leader said there may be chance to do this before the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.


Councillor Janet Whitehouse asked where the smaller meeting rooms would be. The Interim Strategic Director showed, on the diagrams where the proposed smaller meetings room would be.


Councillor S Kane asked that the proposed Chairman’s and Leader’s offices be suitably fitted out.


Councillor Kaufman commenting on the building design noted that in his opinion there were not enough toilets in the proposed design. There could not be this intensification in the building without increasing the number of toilets provided. The interim Strategic Director noted that the designers were working with the building control and experts to make sure it was compliant. Councillor Kaufman noted that he felt the basic standards were not good enough.


The Interim Strategic Director went on to inform the meeting about the proposed changes to the second floor.


Councillor Bassett ventured that with the taking down of the office partitions would generate a lot of background noise and the ability to overhear potentially private conversations whether face to face or over the phone. He was told that the designers had investigated this and were using suitable furniture and there were also smaller meeting rooms.


Councillor Philip asked if there were any interview rooms that could be used to conduct interviews under caution. He was told that there would be two on the ground floor.


Councillor Janet Whitehouse asked about telephone calls that came in that were confidential the officer could not move to a private space then. She was told that some teams would have more use of confidential space and we would have appropriate areas for them.


Councillor Bassett asked where the storage areas were to be located. Departments such as elections, planning and building control needed these storage areas. The Leader answered that there would be lots of cupboards and there were also basement areas.


Councillor Sartin noted that there would be a 7 to 10 ratio for desks but on the presentation just now it said 6 to 10. Which was it. She was told that it was 6 to 10 for the fixed desks and 7 to 10 for all other staff. She then asked if members would have their own space. She was told that it would be on the second floor.


Councillor Heap asked how confident they were with the budget. The Leader said that they were confident that they had a budget available. But as they still had not pinned down what they wanted they could not set out the budget as yet.


Councillor Kaufman noted that were some errors in the QS report. Such as the lifespan of the new building but we were not replacing the existing works, such as the heating and the electrics, will they last for 15 years. All this needs looking at. The Leader said that this was a good point and they would need to bottom this out for the future.


Councillor Neville asked where meetings would be held during the refurbishment period. He was told by the Leader that this would not happen until June; he would like to take the Cabinet out to various locations within the local community. There would be full decant strategy with consultation with members and staff.


Councillor Philip wanted it noted that listed building consent would be determined by Historic England not by ourselves as the planning authority.





(1)        Cabinet noted and approved the progression of the refurbishment of the Civic Offices as the main office for EFDC staff and partners; and


(2)        That the Cabinet approved the decision not to pursue the construction of a new build office on the North Weald Airfield.



Reasons for Proposed Decision:


The accommodation project and supports the overall aspirations of the Council Corporate Plan – Stronger Council, Stronger Communities, Stronger Place.


The cost benefit analysis demonstrates greater benefits for refurbishment of the Civic Offices as the main office for EFDC staff.  This negates the need to incur the cost of building a new office.


Other Options for Action:


Take no interim action within the Civic building and wait for the new build to be constructed. This is considered a less favourable option as an expedited new build would be 2-3 years of no change. The People Strategy was delivering on time and the creation of the new 4-layer management spine was well progressed.  The further work (as set out in the report) on the designs and costs demonstrate a key benefit to progressing with the refurbishment of the Civic Offices.



Supporting documents: