A scheme to reconfigure the town hall and South Lakeland District Council’s (SLDC’s) main offices in Kendal would improve access for customers and put the council ‘at the heart of the high street’.
Councillors will next week be asked to endorse the project to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the accommodation at the council’s HQ at South Lakeland House and Kendal Town Hall and approve in principle the proposed investment, to allow the next stage of work to progress.
A buildings review was completed in 2017 as part of the council’s ‘Customer Connect’ innovation project.
The review considered how the council could best use its buildings to support the Customer Connect objectives to transform and modernise the way SLDC works and provides services for its residents and businesses.
Several options were considered during the review, particularly around the future of the offices at South Lakeland House.
These included staying at the present site and refurbishing it to make it more accessible for customers and making better use of the space in the building and links with the town hall, or moving to a new shared location in Kendal with Cumbria County Council and the Lake District National Park (LDNPA).
The review concluded that the option that gave best value-for-money for the taxpayer would be to stay at South Lakeland House. The shared public sector hub project was ruled out as being too costly and leaving uncertainty over the future use of the town hall.
A full business case has now been completed and members of SLDC’s Cabinet will next week be asked to approve the next stage of the project.
Under the proposal, South Lakeland House would be re-modelled so that around half the office space would be available to let to other organisations, with the main reception areas for the public moving to Kendal Town Hall.
The full scheme for the town hall and South Lakeland House is costed at £4.9m, which the business case shows would be fully repaid through savings from a more efficient building, reducing business rates and maintenance costs and additional income from letting out surplus office space, and in the long-term would generate overall cost savings.
“We want to ensure that anything we do will be cost-effective for the taxpayer, makes the very best use of the building, safeguards the future of the town hall as a civic and community facility and makes life easier for our customers,’’ explained Jonathan Brook, SLDC’s deputy leader and portfolio holder for Housing, People and Innovation.
Councillor Brook continued: “The scheme being proposed would deliver all of that, all the investment would be fully repaid within 25 years and would generate total savings of £450,000 over 10 years.
“Under Customer Connect we are already in the process of re-shaping our workforce so in the future we won’t need to use all of such a large building.
“By re-modelling South Lakeland House we could let out surplus space on much of the top and ground floors to other organisations.
“The proposal would include creating a ‘Mintworks 2’ within South Lakeland House, a new enterprise centre for start-up businesses to build on the great success of our existing Mintworks hub on Highgate, which has supported hundreds of small businesses and clients in the three years since it opened.
“By doing this we could create high-quality office space to support business growth and job creation, which are key council plan priorities, and make the most efficient and cost-effective use of our building asset.’’
The report to Cabinet says the project is needed to undertake much-needed refurbishment of Kendal Town Hall, to improve its use and secure its future.
The report says: “The investment will enable more operational activities to take place in the town hall, releasing space in South Lakeland House for alternative income generation.
“The additional space created following investment will increase the range of events that can be accommodated. All existing user groups can be accommodated within the new scheme and the council will explore the use of the space by other user groups.’’
SLDC Leader Councillor Giles Archibald commented: “Moving the main reception areas for the public to the front of the town hall would make visiting the council much more accessible and user-friendly, especially improving disabled access, and would put the council at the heart of the high street, rather than tucked away and accessed down a narrow yard.
“This would mean the town hall could be better used and would have even more meeting spaces for community groups, safeguarding its role as an important community building and improving facilities for Kendal Town Council officers in the process.
“The shared hub proposition with the county council and LDNPA in Kendal was an interesting idea that was well worth investigating, but it didn’t offer the protection for the town hall, was dependant on finding an alternative use for South Lakeland House and would work out much more costly in the long-run.
“Doing nothing and staying in South Lakeland House but not re-modelling would leave us with a building that would be too big for our needs but not suitable for letting to anyone else, would be less effective and less accessible for our customers and would not make full use of the town hall.
“It would also still require significant amounts of capital investment in ongoing maintenance and repairs over the next 25 years, but without the potential for creating any additional income, so would work out more expensive in the long-term.
“The proposal that has been worked up, to invest in a reconfigured South Lakeland House, I believe is by far the most sensible option all round – it is the most cost-effective for the taxpayer, will help us provide much better services for our customers, supports business growth and protects and enhances the town hall.’’
The recommendation to Cabinet, which meets next Wednesday, February 6, is to approve in principle the investment in South Lakeland House and Kendal Town Hall and to recommend to Full Council that this is included in the capital programme.
It also asks Cabinet to endorse the scheme and authorise officers to progress to the next stage of technical design.
A further, final decision to commit to the capital costs required for the scheme would be taken later this year following a tender exercise.
The full Cabinet report and the business case document is available here: http://democracy.southlakeland.gov.uk/documents/g4455/Public%20reports%20pack%20Wednesday%2006-Feb-2019%2010.00%20Cabinet.pdf?T=10