A call-in over a decision to rent out Bayard Place and parts of the Town Hall, and relocate Peterborough City Council staff to offices at the new Fletton Quays site, has been rejected.
Four city councillors wanted to hold back on the move to become anchor tenants in 2018 at the new £120 million redevelopment as they did not believe the wider social impact had been considered.
Concerns were raised about how the public would access council staff and what the commercial impact would be in Bridge Street.
And although the financial case was not meant to be considered as part of the call-in, the commercial attraction of the Town Hall and how much it would cost to renovate before letting it out was also discussed.
The council states that the relocation would generate it additional income of £7.6 million over the coming years which will help to protect frontline services.
The call-in was issued by Councillor Ed Murphy (Labour and Co-operative), Cllr Richard Ferris (Labour) and Cllrs David Harrington and Bella Saltmarsh (Peterborough Independent Forum).
Cllr Harrington said he agreed that the council should be more efficient, but added: “There are some fundamental flaws in this present proposal that have not been fully explained or needs more talk of what will transpire.”
He claimed that updating the Town Hall was “a monumental task and at a cost.”
Cllr Harrington went on to say: “Fletton Quays, we have concerns it’s on the edge of the city centre. We think the council should be at the heart of any city.
“The idea of moving it to the edge of the Fletton Quays development will make it isolated. It will not be open to the general public.”
Cllr Saltmarsh said: “You only have to go to Bayard Place to see the number of people there for housing benefit queries or council tax.
“I can’t imagine how all these people that are currently going there will come here to a reception desk.
“It appears these things have not been properly addressed.”
Cllr Murphy expressed fears that the town centre would suffer from council staff moving out.He said: “There are so many uncontrollable factors. If there’s a vote for Brexit who may want to rent office accommodation from the council?”
He added: “There’s no evidence that more businesses are going to move to the Town Hall and Bayard Place.”
Responding to the call-in, Cllr David Seaton, cabinet member for resources, said the decision to relocate to Fletton Quays was made in February 2014 and had been on the forward plan ever since, with the most recent announcement centred on the business case for the move.
He added: “We are transforming this council to meet the challenge of delivering services in a reduced budget.
“Nearly all housing benefit claims now are made online. We acknowledge some residents will still want a public service and the customer service desk will be in the Town Hall.”
Cllr Seaton also stated that the retail vacancy in Peterborough was 8.9 per cent compared to 12.5 per cent nationally.
Simon Machen, the council’s corporate director for growth and regeneration, said there was only 300,000 square feet of office floor space available in Peterborough.
He added: “We’ve got heat in the market and an under-supply of Grade A office floor space.”
John Harrison, the council’s corporate director for resources, said: “What you will get in the Town Hall will be what you will get in Bayard under the new customer access strategy.
“I guarantee that it will not be different.”
Cllr John Fox asked if the police would move to the Town Hall as well. Mr Harrison replied: “They have not said to me they will not.”
Cllr Nazim Khan, a member on the committee, said: “I’m not against the move. My only concern is that it might be the first step to moving out of the Town Hall.”
He added that he wanted to get the decision on Fletton Quays out of the way so focus could be turned to regenerating North Westgate.
Cllr Nick Sandford, who was chairing the meeting, commented: “Would it not make an awful more economic sense either to retain the entire Town Hall or dispose of it completely?”
Cllr Sandford was the only member of the committee to support the call-in.