Friday, 18 March 2011

Disappointment at approach to sale of council offices in St Austell

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the Cabinet voted to pursue negotiations to sell part of the former Restormel Council Offices in St Austell.

The report stated that the Council had received an unsolicited bid for part of the Penwinnick Road site, which might realise in the region of £10 million of capital receipts. It also stated that the receipts could go towards the construction of new offices.

Other claims were made about the maintenance backlog of £1.25m on offices in St Austell and that new offices would be more cost-effective.

I found it surprising that, not so long ago, we were told that the Penwinnick offices were amongst the best that Cornwall Council had, but now “the office space is inflexible in its layout, arranged on split levels and is difficult to navigate.” Difficult to navigate? What codswallop!

It also stated that the “meeting space is designed for the needs of a Borough Council, not a local office within the estate required to serve the Unitary Council.” Not sure what that means.

I was particularly annoyed that, as an elected member, I had been told nothing prior to the Cabinet meeting. The report stated that “local Members in St Austell have been made aware of the position.”

But the St Austell Offices are not just used by St Austell members. It is a “regional” office used by councillors from throughout the former Restormel area, not least for planning matters. Those of us in the China Clay Area, in particular, use it a lot – but no-one had the decency to let us know anything about what was happening.

I was particularly annoyed when the Cabinet member “had a go” at members for “rumours” about office closures, when he had failed to engage or communicate with us at any point.

I asked a series of questions at the meeting. I noted that when the unitary authority was set up, it was made clear that there would be three “operational areas” in Cornwall and the St Austell offices would play a major role within the “Central Area” and continue to be a major employer within the town.

I asked that, if new offices were built, how big they would be, how many staff would be based there, and what services would be run from the town. There were no answers!

It was extremely disappointing that I learnt nothing new at the meeting and I am still waiting for meaningful communication from the Cabinet and leading officers on this issue.

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