WARWICK District Council’s proposed new headquarters in Leamington has prompted questions from Labour group members.
The council is looking to move from its current Riverside House headquarters on Milverton Hall to a new purpose built hq on the site of the current Covent Garden car park – with preliminary plans revealed in last week’s Observer.
The plans also include a new larger multi-storey car park – to replace the current car park which is suffering from so-called ‘concrete cancer’ – together with 40 private apartments.
Council chiefs say the move would save £300,000 in annual operating costs, and would also provide a £1million boost to the town economy. The council’s current Riverside House hq would make way for around just over 100 new homes.
But the Labour Group had already expressed concerns about the project when the Conservative administration decided to go ahead with a feasibility study in April last year.
District council Labour group leader Coun Colin Quinney said: “It’s been over 12 months since we had any information on this project and now we are seeing preliminary planning proposals with no answers yet on some of the key questions which town centre businesses and residents are asking.”
We put questions raised by the Labour group – sent out in a press release – to Warwick District Council deputy chief executive Bill Hunt.
What is the cost of rebuilding the Covent Garden multi story car park compared to the cost of retaining it?
Bill Hunt – “We won’t know the final cost of rebuilding the multi-storey car park until we’ve got the results of the procurement exercise for the site, which we can’t begin until we’ve secured planning consent. The detailed cost estimates from are c£7.2million for a 620 space car park with a life-expectancy of a minimum 60 years, but, as said, that has yet to be market tested. Simply refurbishing the current 511 space car park would cost a minimum of £2.1million to give it a maximum 20 year life. This is a 2015 figure and likely to have increased but also comes with significant caveats – the works this sum buys doesn’t eliminate the ASR (concrete cancer) but suppress it. If it becomes active we could have spent this sum and still have to close the car park at any point, particularly if it re-activated in one of the corners of the structure. A new car park constructed of modern materials will never experience ASR.
In value for money terms the new car park costs £193.54 per bay per annum over its projected lifetime (£7.2m/60 years/620 bays) and the retained car park £205.47 ( £2.1/20/511) although this assumes it does last for 20 more years. As the car park is a long term investment with a guaranteed income stream there is no issue for the council securing the funding for this type of development.
Where are the plans for mitigating the loss of/ disruption to car parking during the construction phase?
Bill Hunt – We have a full-time project officer working on a displacement strategy and have established a working group with the Leamington Chamber of Trade, Leamington Business Improvement District and Coventry & Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce to finalise the plans. Any closure of the car park would not start until next year so there is plenty of time to agree a strategy. In fact the proposals are due to be reported back to the Council’s elected members in August. These will include a communication plan to raise awareness of the closure and highlight the alternative parking options in other off-street car parks in the town plus on-street parking locations, a publicity and advertising campaign and detailed exploration of options to create additional capacity, e.g. using Riverside House at weekends for public car parking of up to 220 spaces, options to take long-stay car parking out of town and options to create park and ride facilities for town centre workers.
Is there sufficient capacity in the new carpark for the long term – given the proposed new housing, new offices and general growth of the area on top of current parking pressures?
Bill Hunt – We’re confident there will be. The existing Covent Garden site has a total capacity of 601 spaces (511 MSCP and 90 surface) whereas the new car park would provide 620 spaces. It will also be a modern attractive car park and we expect it to be heavily used whereas the current site is unpopular and only recording a c60 per cent occupancy rate. The ASR issues in the car park also mean that the top two decks are actually closed so the capacity is only 438 spaces. The new car park therefore brings considerable extra capacity into the town even taking into account the need to reserve 44 spaces for the occupants of the new apartments and c60 spaces for those WDC staff who routinely use their car to deliver services to the public. Other WDC staff will park in more peripheral car parks ensuring we maintain the capacity in the town centre to support local shops and businesses.
* The plans will be on show at the Royal Priors shopping centre on June 3, between 10am and 2pm, after which they can also be viewed by visiting www.warwickdc.gov.uk/relocation