Guildhall revamp latest: Council leaders demand new business plan

York Guildhall. Photograph: YorkMix
8 May 2018 @ 9.26 pm
| Environment, News, Politics

A new risk assessment and an updated business plan – two of the things York councillors want to see before going ahead with the scaled-back Guildhall redevelopment.

Tonight (Tuesday) York’s ruling executive was asked to sign off on changes to the major scheme, after it emerged that soaring costs made an earlier deal too expensive.

The joint Conservative and Lib Dem executive committee agreed to alterations that staff wanted to make to bring costs on the scheme down – like scrapping a roof terrace and a plan for construction deliveries on the river.

But they pushed for more scrutiny before the project can go ahead.

Council leader Ian Gillies said he wanted an updated business case, a risk analysis, and an outline of how a future contractor plans to support the local economy as it does the building work.

‘Stop playing property developers’

An artist’s impression of how the Guildhall yard might look

Plans for the complex include serviced offices, restaurant, cafe and public access – keeping the council’s use of the historic council chamber.

Last month the authority pulled the plug on a development contract with Interserve – saying that after initial work the firm’s quotes were well in excess of the accepted 12 per cent tolerances in the contract.

At last night’s meeting several members of the public urged the councillors to look again at the serviced offices in the plan.

Michael Hammill told the councillors they were “playing Monopoly with taxpayers’ money”, but they had been handed a “get out of jail free card” on the deal.

There was no evidence of demand for the office space a redeveloped Guildhall would provide, he added, and the complex has lain empty since the council left in 2013, costing the authority money.

Despite that, councillors have been presented with no fresh options for its future, and the five year old business case has not been revisited, Mr Hammill added.

“The council should stick to what it’s good at, and not play at being property developers with our money,” he said.

Alternative use

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Architect Matthew Laverack offered to help the council for free with sketches of an alternative use for the complex, saying high-end visitor accommodation is the one thing certain to bring a “viable return” on the site.

Tracey Carter, the council’s asset and regeneration chief, said the authority already runs managed office spaces in its West Offices HQ and at the Eco-Centre, enjoying good occupancy rates.

The councillors agreed to the scaled back plans for the complex, which will cost an extra £4-5 million overall meaning an additional £210,000 to £260,000 a year in borrowing costs.

Cllr Janet Looker, Labour group leader, said she would have supported a more expensive option to stick with the existing scheme, saying “Let’s be a little entrepreneurial and ambitious.”