District council leader answers questions on authority's new HQ plan for Leamington

Since last week's story about the approval for Warwick District Council's new £50m headquarters in Leamington - and 170 homes on the current HQ site - we have been inundated with calls and letters. So we have put your key questions to the council

1. Will the money made from the sale of the Riverside House site cover the costs of the whole HQ project, or will extra money be needed to fund it?

These major town centre regeneration proposals are being delivered through a 50:50 joint venture partnership with PSP Warwick LLP, a specialist public sector property investment and facilitation company, which will manage and deliver the project for the council. PSP Warwick LLP will arrange the sale of the Riverside House to a housing developer. The proceeds from this sale will then be used by the LLP to fund the cost of the new (smaller and more efficient) offices. Once complete and fully operational the new offices will be handed over to the council, as freeholder of the new building. Consequently, the LLP will not require any funding from the council to provide the new offices and the council will not be borrowing money, using its reserves or asking for a contribution from council tax payers.

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2. What are the plans to cover the loss of parking spaces (approximately 600) while the work is being carried out? Is there emergency cover for when major events are on (i.e. National Bowls Championships)?

The planning committee’s decision to approve the Covent Garden development required the LLP to put an alternative town centre parking strategy in place for the period when the existing Covent Garden car parks are closed and the new car park is being built. The strategy is being finalised by the council’s planning team, but will include changes to the parking charges at St Peter’s car park to promote short-stay use and a new planning application to allow the Riverside House car park to be used by the public at weekends.

In addition to this the council will be bringing forward proposals to provide additional parking on council- owned land in the town centre. Subject to agreement by councillors this new parking will be available throughout the period when the Covent Garden car parks are closed. These arrangements will be in addition to the temporary car parking which is provided in Victoria Park, during the National Bowls Championships.

3. How many Council employees will be making the move across to the new HQ? Will they all be working at the new HQ or spread out at different locations?

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Approximately 365 council staff are currently based at Riverside House. Whilst these staff will continue to be based at the new HQ, the new offices will be designed to accommodate around two-thirds of these staff (240) who we estimate will be working in the building at any one time. As with many other organisations the council is adopting more flexible and mobile working practices.

4. Once finished, how many parking spaces will be in the new multi-storey car park? How many of these will be for the public, for council employees and for residents in the new flats?

There will be 617 car spaces in the new multi-storey (plus three outside spaces for high-roof disabled vehicles), plus 20 motor-cycle spaces and secure storage for 30 cycles. The current surface and multi-storey car parks in Covent Garden have a total of 592 spaces, however due to the condition of the multi-storey car park the current capacity is only 469 spaces.

When the new car park is opened a maximum of 60 of the spaces will be available to council staff who are making frequent trips in and out of the offices for operational duties. These spaces will only be occupied during office hours and will be made available to the public at all other times.

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The council is putting in place a ‘green travel’ incentive scheme for staff to encourage car-sharing, increased use of public transport and cycling and walking to work. The 44 apartments being built at Covent Garden will be allocated 56 spaces in the new car park . This leaves 458 spaces for the public to use during the week and 515 spaces at the weekend when the council offices are closed.

5. What are the reasons for the fact that no affordable housing is being proposed for the Riverside site and the new HQ site?

Before approving planning applications for both the Covent Garden and Riverside House sites, the planning committee studied the financial viability assessment, which was provided by the applicant and independently analysed by Jones Laing LaSalle. The report concluded that in order to provide new offices at no cost to the council tax payer there was insufficient funding to

subsidise any affordable housing.

However, the planning committee made the decision to insert an additional clause into the planning consent, making it a requirement to re-run the viability clause when the development is nearing completion. This will ensure that this future reassessment will be based on the actual construction and sale costs of the new homes rather than projections. If the revised assessment demonstrates that the scheme can fund affordable housing it will then become an enforceable obligation on the LLP and the developer.

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6. Can you elaborate on why the report carried out by Jones Laing LaSalle, which concluded that no affordable housing was needed, was not made public? WDC said this was due to ‘sensitive financial information’ but due to its importance, could the ‘sensitive financial information’ have been redacted?

It is common practice not to disclose viability assessments to planning applications, where they contain commercially sensitive information. These applications were no different. We were also conscious that redacting the information would have resulted in a document that made little sense and couldn’t have been properly explained without reference to the confidential information itself.

7. When is the work expected to start and approximately how long will it take?

The detailed ‘behind the scenes’ work, funded entirely by the LLP, involving a team of architects, engineers and planning consultants, which got us to the point of the two planning applications being approved, began in April 2016. We now need to undertake additional work on the internal design of the new smaller HQ, the conditional sale of the Riverside House site to a developer and the procurement of the construction contract for the Covent Garden development (car-park, offices and apartments).

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Only when all of this work is complete and the viability of the project is reassessed will the council be asked to give its final authority to proceed with the project. We estimate that this will be later this year or in early 2019.

Once the redevelopment work starts, the car parks will close, but we will not allow this to be before the busy Christmas/New Year shopping period. The new Covent Garden multi-storey is projected to take around twenty months to complete, which will include the demolition of the old car park. It is therefore anticipated that the new car park will be ready for use before Christmas 2020.

The new council offices are scheduled for completion by December 2020, with the new apartments complete in mid 2021.

The work at Riverside House can only begin when the council has relocated to the new offices, so this won’t be before 2021. The new homes will then be built and sold in phases, as is normal with a development of this size. However, before any work starts the LLP’s chosen developer will need to bring its planning application back for approval to determine the exact nature of the development and the number of homes that will be built (this may be less than the 170 houses that planning consent was given for).