Why we’re investing in the Civic Centre
If the council is so strapped for cash, why is it planning to spend so much money on refurbishing the Civic Centre?
It’s a question we’re getting asked a lot at the moment, and I thought it was worth taking the time to explain.
Over the next few years we will continue to face considerable financial challenges as we comes to terms with reductions in Government funding and rising costs.
To help meet these challenges it is essential that we make the most efficient use of our buildings – in particular our headquarters accommodation at the Civic Centre.
The council has reviewed all of its office accommodation across the city and aims to consolidate as many staff as possible in the Civic Centre by remodelling the building to make the best use of the available space.
Because of the cuts we now employ far fewer people than we have done before and it makes sense to bring this smaller workforce together in one building. The refurbishment will also improve energy efficiency and address longstanding repairs and maintenance problems.
By investing in this way the council will save more than £2m every year through reduced energy bills, lower repair costs and the closure of outlying offices that are no longer needed.
It is better to consolidate our workforce and invest to deliver the accommodation we need, rather than continuing to waste resources maintaining an office estate which we don’t need and which no longer meets our requirements. We are also using the money from property sales to fund our capital programme, including the proposed refurbishment of the Civic Centre.
If we don’t do the work to bring it up-to-date, our Civic Centre, an iconic grade two-listed building in the heart of the city, would quickly become unaffordable.
There would be a gradual decline in our office estate with continuing high costs and a growing backlog of maintenance and repair work which the council would be unable to fund.
The Civic Centre will be refurbished to a reasonable standard to provide a modern office environment for council staff and we realise how important it is to ensure that the standard of accommodation provides good value for money for local taxpayers.
The refurbishment will also allow the council to rent out some space in the building to key partners generating income and helping us to work more closely with other important organisations in the city. We have already let out some space to other organisations and this is now bringing money into the council and reducing the pressure on our budgets.
We will also continue to make sure the Civic remains one of the city’s premier conference venues, it’s a valuable source of income for us.
It is important to note that we will not do the refurbishment all at once as we need to test our assumptions on the costs of the work and of the predicted energy savings we can make. We are, therefore, planning to improve one floor in the tower block first and then carefully monitor the cost savings.
Investing money now to save costs in the future is a sensible way to secure the economic future of one of Newcastle’s most important buildings. The Civic Centre is an asset of real social and economic value to the city. It needs some care and attention now to ensure it will be viable long into the future.