'Worst-kept secret' as council admits new HQ could be £15m Top Wighay office on Hucknall/Linby border
Controversial new offices planned for Top Wighay Farm on the Hucknall/Linby border have been confirmed as ‘an option’ for a new Nottinghamshire County Council base.
The admission, despite rumours and claims, has been made for the first time amid news it could cost ‘tens of millions of pounds’ to maintain County Hall, the current HQ in West Bridgford, in the coming years.
The landmark County Hall, built on the banks of the River Trent in the 1930s and opened in 1946, houses the council’s chamber for meetings alongside services and support offices.
However, the authority is planning a new £15.7 million centre at Top Wighay and has been assessing all its existing buildings to see if it can save money.
And opposition councillors have long suggested the new offices will lead to the Conservative-led authority selling off its County Hall home, describing it as the “worst-kept secret” in Nottinghamshire.
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Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Council Leader, Coun Ben Bradley (Con), confirmed for the first time the authority is considering a full or partial move out of County Hall, which could then be sold.
He also said it is “too early” to say what will happen for certain, and added the proposals will be included in an ongoing asset management scrutiny review.
The assessments, which come as part of the Investing in Nottinghamshire programme, have already seen the authority’s office portfolio reduced from 17 buildings to nine and brought savings of more than £1m per year.
It comes alongside the plans to bring the new Top Wighay office to fruition in what will be the authority’s first completely carbon-neutral office space.
The asset review, confirmed by cabinet member Coun Keith Girling, will see a new place committee assessing the wider building portfolio before deciding for certain what to do with County Hall.
Staff working at the building will also be consulted on their views.
“County Hall is our biggest, oldest and most expensive building so it’s logical that we include it in the conversation,” Coun Bradley said.
“A lot of the figures suggest that in order to maintain it, given the nature of it and to keep it at the standard it needs to be, it’s going to cost us tens of millions of pounds over the next few years.
“I think it’s logical to suggest, given the costs and the inefficiencies of the building, that we would either change the way we use it or vacate it.
“There’s obviously a question of where we go, Top Wighay would be one of the options and we’ve also got Trent Bridge House just over the road here, but these are questions and not answers.
“We’re certainly looking at it, is the honest answer, and it’s important to be careful managing that process so any decision we do make will be subject to cross-party scrutiny, consultation with staff and we will go through that.
“Things will inevitably change, but we can’t yet be clear on what that will be.”
It comes after opposition Independent Alliance councillors raised concerns over a County Hall sale and suggested this was the authority’s plan “all along”.
Coun Francis Purdue-Horan (Ind) told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “The fact that the Conservatives want to sell County Hall is Nottinghamshire’s worst kept secret. Everyone knows County Hall is prime real estate.
“We’ve always felt the real reason they are building the new £15.7million office block at Top Wighay near Hucknall is that they are considering selling County Hall to the highest bidder.
“They should have been more honest about this from the start.”
Coun Bradley said he could not comment what would happen to County Hall if the authority did decide to sell it, or how much the building would be worth.