Agenda item

Accommodation Programme

(Leader) To consider the attached report (C-002-2020-21).




Cabinet approved the award of contract to ISG Fit Out Ltd for the sum of £5, 663, 062.00 (excluding VAT) for the refurbishment of the Civic Offices.



The Leader introduced the report on the Accommodation Project seeking to appoint the contractors on the refurbishment and regeneration of the Civic Offices.  This would also pave the way for providing new housing on the adjacent Conder building site.


S Jevans noted that the recent situation with Covid 19 has tested the organisation’s ability to homework and had demonstrated that EFDC had the capacity to work flexibly in a way that was previously unknown.  The refurbishment of the Civic Offices was based on an approach that moved to a reduced ratio of 6:10 fixed desk ratio with additional meeting and collaborative workspaces.  The home working had not been without its challenges and there were still roles/teams that would benefit from the office environment, most importantly the collaborative working spaces.  It was a good time to reflect on the purpose and usage of the Civic Office space and to review the benefits of this refurbishment project for the longer term. 


She noted that the report had listed the benefits of the refurbishment project for the long term. The report also set out how the tender process was taken forward; Gardener and Theobald were the cost consultants commissioned to undertake the tender process for the major works. And their report was annexed to the Cabinet report.


Councillor Philip noted that the key driver would be to have as much money as possible to help support the district. We have a property here that had not had much money spent on it in the last few years as we had been planning to redevelop it. However, if we decided to keep the building then we would have to catch up on this maintenance deficit. Added to this would be making use of the space occupied by the Conder building and making it a significant revenue stream from the redevelopment of this area and making it a good place for people to live. Also, works to the Civic Offices would make it a more flexible place for us to work in and have spaces for new starter businesses.


S Jevans added that there were a number of spaces in the building that could be used for service offices or small businesses and officers were currently speaking to our partners across the district on the benefits of co-location.


Councillor Bedford was pleased that the Council had recognised the new agile working, working with partners, how we were getting better use of the offices and making a community hub at the centre of Epping. He commended the work that was done by Councillor Lion for getting the high-speed broadband set up across the District. This was echoed by the Leader.


Councillor S Kane emphasised the importance of home working, some 400 staff were now doing so, which freed up space for outside partners to come in and build a community hub for the district.


Councillors N Avey and H Whitbread commented that they to were very supportive of this scheme.


Councillor Murray noted that initially 6 companies had registered an interest in this contract but in the end only one formally submitted a bid. He acknowledged that we have had a full report from Gardener and Theobald but did not consider it good practice to accept a tender from just one company. He also thought in reference to the Community Hub aspect, that as most of the district residents live in the south (Loughton, Chigwell & Waltham Abbey) they did not have good transport links to Epping, and this was not the right place to have it.


He then went on to ask about Social Housing and what definition of social housing were we using, was it for people below average income. And what detailed discussions with groups would there be on the occupation of the Hub.

The Leader replied that there would be a mix styles and units with up to 40% affordable housing in that mix, but he did not know the details yet. He noted that they could not move the Civic Offices to Loughton it would be too expensive to do so.


S Jevans commented on the discussion with partners, they have had some detailed discussions, but it was not right for this to go public at the present. Councillor Philip added that there was no planning application as yet for the site of the Conder building, he thought the plan was to look at the Epping sites as a whole, not just the Conder building.


Councillor Neville asked if we had any feedback on why the other companies had not submitted a tender for this contract, and on an environmental point, what gases we were going to use in the air conditioning units to modify their environmental impact, and how long would they last before they needed to be renewed. S Jevans said that 6 companies had expressed an interest and 3 went forward into the bid process and unfortunately 2 dropped out. This is detailed in the cost consultants report. We had expected a cost of £6.5m but this bid came in at a lower £5.5m. However, she would have to come back to Councillor Neville on the air conditioner question.


Councillor A Patel commented that there was no better place to locate a community hub than on the High Street, with the St John’s Road site at one end and the proposed Community Hub at the other, thus driving footfall from one end to the other.


Councillor S Heap agreed with both Councillor Patel as well as Councillor Murray. He noted that we had to wary about completing with local businesses, such as having a café at one end of the High Street and taking business from the High Street. He then asked about the item listed on page 65 of the agenda that of ‘Direct Orders’ at £50k. What was that for. He also noted that as a pre-2000 building there may be all sorts of irregularities with it (such as asbestos). Also he suggested that he would like the Council’s £200k savings kept back in case there were problems.


S Jevans replied that as part of the project they had undertaken surveys to make sure there were no hidden problems like that. And yes, they had a significant contingency held in reserve larger than that £200k.


Councillor Janet Whitehouse queried if the building work would be noisy for the neighbours working 16-hour days, 7 days a week. S Jevans said that they had dealt with this with a detail plan, making sure that there was not too much noise.


Councillor Jon Whitehouse commented that it was not ideal that we had only one tender back; and that it would be nice if some of this money could be spent locally for local businesses. He was told that this had formed part of the tender process, to encourage local employment.


Councillor D Dorrell noting that we only had one contractor who had tendered, asked, did we have anyone in reserve in case the chosen contractor could not carry out the work. He was told that in that case they would have to go out to tender again, although they had put in a full risk strategy and we had a detailed contract.


Councillor S Kane commented that having a Community Hub set up in Epping did not preclude having Community Hubs set up in other areas of the district. We had a pilot of a multi- agency centre in Waltham Abbey just before Covid and that was cut short, but would be reinstated after the lockdown and it will also be rolled out across the district in community centres.





Cabinet approved the award of contract to ISG Fit Out Ltd for the sum of £5, 663, 062.00 (excluding VAT) for the refurbishment of the Civic Offices.



Reasons for Proposed Decision:


The accommodation project supported the overall aspirations of the Council Corporate

Plan – Stronger Council, Stronger Communities, Stronger Place.


The cost benefit analysis demonstrated greater benefits for refurbishment of the Civic Offices as the main office for EFDC staff.  This negated the need to incur the cost of building a new office and would create a collaborative space that could also be used for partners and small businesses.


Other Options for Action:


Do not undertake the refurbishment of the building.  The current building is coming to the end of its useful life in terms of many of the essential mechanical, electrical and roof elements.  These elements would need to be undertaken regardless of the refurbishment project to keep the building operational.



Supporting documents: