Council Chamber at March 2023 meeting

Pause on redevelopment

Council Chamber at March 2023 meeting

In Full Council this week, Poole People Councillor L-J Evans called for a stop to the Conservatives playing Monopoly with taxpayers money. They seemed on a mission to commit several Million pounds to creating Full business cases for projects to turn both Poole Civic Centre, and the Christchurch Civic Offices into Boutique Hotels, with housing alongside. She went on to highlight that the document said that the Ward Councillors had been consulted and agreed with the plans. No such meeting let alone agreement had occurred.

Councillor Andy Hadley said :

Item 7 of the report highlights the purpose of an OBC – to confirm that it is feasible and worth pursuing to detailed design, and consequent significant further FBC and planning costs. I’m not sure that has been fully achieved, or that the dying meeting of the current council should be baking these costs in for the next Council period (As already raised by Councillor Stribley).

There are Rateable value costs on having it sitting idle, yet we are told that continuing car parking on site bring in an equivalent value to them. An ongoing Selective Parking study is referenced, but the paper highlights 60,000 uses pa of the car parks, with the civic centre empty. This provides a meanwhile use, but needs resolving.

The Coroners function and Court are left hanging by the change of direction. This needs clarity.

Sadly, due to neglect of the building over decades under Conservative Austerity, the costs of basic backlog maintenance are significant, and when this is added to the development works to make this a boutique hotel, I am advised it could make it very uneconomic, unfavourably higher than the most prestigious hotel in the whole area (Chewton Glen) which has a countryside setting, not in the middle of a busy roundabout.

There was a discussion about whether the mayoral functions could better be served in another building, specifically the Guidhall retained within Council control. This was highlighted but not followed through in the document.

And that makes me very uncomfortable with the recommendation, accepting the OBC and committing to the FBC costs. I’m not set against the notion of a hotel and housing on the site, I do think we should defer this decision until after May.

Other opposition members also voiced concerns about the significant costs, that committing the future Council to progressing was tying its hands, and that a review of BCP FuturePlaces by Lord Kerslake is shortly to complete. Better to await the outcome of that.

A significant issue with going ahead is that having written the Full Business Case, should the decision be not to proceed with the scheme, then the costs would fall directly onto revenue into Council Taxpayers laps. Significant uncertainties about financial viability of the scheme remain.

The recommendation to proceed to creating a Full Business Case (FBC) for the hotel and housing was defeated, as was a similar motion to turn the Christchurch offices into a boutique hotel with housing outside the flood defences and obscuring the views from the hotel. In that case, the lack of assurance on mitigation for flooding was cited as something that needs to be fixed before moving to FBC.

Whether this is seen as dithering or financial prudence possibly depends on whether you believe that the risk taking of the last two years has been good for BCP residents.