(Interim Strategic Director) To consider the attached report.
The interim Strategic Director presented an update report on the Accommodation Strategy. The proposed floor layout plans were also projected for Members to see.
The interim Strategic Director reported that the Cabinet at its meeting in October had agreed to not pursue the construction of new Civic Offices in North Weald, as new design plans had illustrated that all required Council staff could be accommodated in the Civic Offices – on a 7:10 desks-to-staff ratio – if the building was refurbished to create a more open plan space. This would also lead to the vacation of the Condor Building, which would then become available for redevelopment.
The interim Strategic Director stated that the proposed layout for the ground floor would see the creation of a large conference facility capable of hosting 200 people, as well as spaces which could be leased by partner organisations such as the Library and Citizens Advice. It was also intended to provide public access to the revamped café area. Council staff would occupy the office spaces on floors 1 and 2. A Decant Strategy was being prepared to move all staff to the Condor Building while the refurbishment works were being completed. The Council Chamber and Committee Rooms would also be unavailable, and plans were being drawn up to hold Member meetings at various locations around the District between June and December 2020.
The interim Strategic Director stated that it was estimated that the total cost of the refurbishment would be £6.6million. It was expected that this would create a 30-year lifespan for the Civic Offices. The Civic Offices was a listed building, so Listed Building consent would be required for the proposed internal changes; however, a full planning application would be required for the renovation of the café area.
Councillor H Kane enquired how happy were the staff with the proposed changes as it was not detailed in the report? The Chief Executive responded that a consultant engaged with the staff a while ago and that was how the 7:10 desks-to-staff ratio was decided upon, although there were examples of more aggressive ratios. The interim Strategic Director added that there was a Champions Group involved with the refurbishment, and Managers were working with their teams on how to apply the 7:10 ratio.
Councillor J H Whitehouse expressed some concern at the lack of tables in the proposed layout for Epping Library. The Chief Executive informed the Committee that the Library had yet to respond with specifics for the layout; it was for Essex County Council to inform the Council of their requirements, and for the Council to decide whether the Library could be accommodated or not. However, the Library’s preferred location was the bay area at the front of the building on the ground floor. It was acknowledged that the space for the Library within this building would not be as large as their current building, but an indicative cost for the Library had been calculated and they would lease the space they used.
The Chairman noted that the Council Chamber would be out of use for seven months and asked if suitable alternative venues for Council meetings had been found? The interim Strategic Director stated that it was essential for this building to be vacant during the refurbishment; the Decant Strategy would deal with Committee meetings and their location. Members would be provided with more detail in due course but meetings would be held in the Civic Offices until the Annual Council Meeting in May. It was also emphasised that Homefield House would be used during the decant period for Democratic Services, Electoral Services and as a Member space.
The Vice-Chairman queried whether the 200-seat conference facility was being provided at the expense of the comfort of the staff? The Chief Executive reassured the Committee that it would be a ground floor Committee Room space which could be leased to third parties but would also be used for Council events, such as staff briefings. The new office layouts had already been implemented for the Finance team and Leadership Team on the second floor of the Civic Offices, and it was not uncomfortable for staff. The interim Strategic Director added that there would be a tour of the new layouts on the second floor for members prior to the next meeting of the Committee in January 2020.
(1) That the current progress with the Accommodation Strategy be noted.