Harrogate Borough Council last night voted in favour of building a new £9million headquarters and selling off the landmark Crescent Gardens offices in the town centre.
Around 50 angry campaigners gathered outside the council’s offices, heckling Conservative councillors as they made their way to cast their votes, however the majority remained unswayed by the ‘hands off Crescent Gardens’ banners and all but two Conservative councillors voted in favour of the move.
In total 29 councillors voted for the move, including three independent councillors, with all 15 Lib Dems opposing the move along with Coun Shirley Fawcett (Con, Spofforth with Lower Wharfedale).
The Lib Dems tabled a last minute amendment calling for a six week delay on a decision while the council calculated costs for a plan B, which was mocked by Conservative councillors.
Coun Michael Harrison (Con, Killinghall) said: “The idea we can do a like for like comparison on a new plan in six weeks is insane. It has taken us more than two years to get to this point, it would take two years again.”
Three petitions opposing the plans were submitted to the council before the vote and Lib Dem councillors raised concerns about the lack of alternative plans, the planned new build’s energy efficiency failings and worries that the council could become part of a unitary authority.
Coun Helen Flynn (Lib Dem, Nidd Valley) said: “No model of local authority will be the same again, we could be building a white elephant having sacrificed one of our most important heritage assets.”
However the Conservatives argued that by building a new state-of-the-art office, any newly created local authority would be more likely to pick Harrogate as a base, over other nearby towns with older facilities.
Coun Jean Butterfield (Con, Low Harrogate) said: “There is never going to be a right time to do this, but we need to get on.”
The saga of Harrogate Council’s search for a new home has been rumbling on for five years. The authority had hoped to buy the former police station on North Road when Harrogate Police moved to a new £18million building on the outskirts of Harrogate, however it abandoned the plans when the building was listed by English Heritage in 2012.
The police station was later bought by a developer for £1.55million who has since sold apartments for a record breaking £564 per square foot.
In 2013 the council voted to push ahead with the planning a new office at Knapping Mount, a brownfield site originally earmarked for housing, and councillors approved planning permission for the new building in March 2015, despite concerns about council staff using car parking spaces at the Harrogate International Centre.
Lib Dem Coun Bob O’Neil (Woodfield) who was re-elected to the council in May after serving on the council for almost 20 years in the 1980s and 1990s said that public opinion was very much against the new building.
He said: “One of the reasons I got back into politics was all of the people saying to me that they wanted more common sense on this council. I remember the council voting to spend money to build two new exhibition halls at the International Centre, one of which has never been used. Why should we trust you to spend this type of money?”
Lib Dem leader Coun Pat Marsh (Hookstone) pleaded with councillors not to sell off Crescent Gardens, the landmark town centre building which was built in 1931.
She said: “We will lose this building for the people of this district forever. If you can’t save this building how long before all the civic buildings in Knaresborough and Ripon are sold off to become luxury apartments or boutique hotels?”
Crescent Gardens will now be sold to the authorities preferred bidder for an undisclosed sum, though it is thought to have fetched more than the £2million to £5million estimate estate agents valued the building at earlier this year.
Council leader Coun Richard Cooper (Con, High Harrogate) emphasised the estimated efficiency savings the council says the planned move will create.
Reports estimate that the move to Knapping Mount will cost £8.7million pound and make £860,000 of savings per year.
He said: “This is about saving money so that we can invest in public services like swimming pools or parks and gardens in the future.”