'Reach for the book' - the 'concept' plan to replace the spiral straircase
The Liberal Democrat Group on Brent Council have expressed doubts about the Council’s decision to spend £2m on the £100m 10 years old Brent Civic Centre.
The Cabinet decision to spend an excessive sum of £1.96 million on upgrades to Brent Civic Centre, at a time when services provided by the local authority continue to be reduced, is wrong and unjustified.
As a service-based organisation, Brent Council should always be putting the needs of residents first and we do not believe that committing this large amount of money on ‘Improving the Customer Experience’ at the Civic Centre is a priority for our residents. Most residents are concerned about crumbling and dangerous local roads and pavements, increased rubbish being dumped in our area, and most significantly the huge financial pressures faced due to the Cost-of-Living crisis, compounded by upcoming additional pressures like the increase in Council Tax and other charges.
It is difficult to justify spending £1.96 on the Civic Centre building, when there are so many other areas the Council should be prioritising at this time.
The Report makes no mention of the number of visitors to the Civic Centre, what the numbers the current arrangements can cope with and what the numbers the redesign will be able to accommodate, after spending £1.96 million. Why?
The Report also makes claims about savings without specifying what these savings will be.
Brent Civic Centre is barely 10 years old. We find it incredible that the Cabinet have been able to identify such a large amount of money for a redesign, whilst simultaneously claiming shortfalls in the budget exist, which impact the delivery of services and upkeep of our wards.
It is accepted by many that, particularly post pandemic, the Civic Centre is not being used to full capacity. Much of the vast space available for use is not being utilised as intended, as many Council Officers are able to do their work remotely and from home. Whilst the Report refers mostly to the customer areas of the Civic Centre, we believe that a discussion now needs to also begin about the continued use of the Civic Centre as a whole, given the costs involved for its upkeep, and the potential for considerable revenue to be generated if it is used in different ways.
The Report focuses on the face-to-face public spaces in the Civic Centre as being in need of a redesign. We do not believe that enough effort has been made to adapt, at much lesser cost, the existing spaces for ‘customers’ who come to the building seeking support.
We believe that further work needs to take place to understand alternative, less costly action to ensure a better ‘Customer Experience’ at Brent Civic Centre. We acknowledge that some consultation has been done that has led to the decision to produce this Report, however we are sceptical that enough people’s views were taken into account and that a wide range of views were considered in preparation for this Report.
As Councillors often in the Civic Centre, we recognise the waste of space in the mezzanine area. This space should be used more efficiently, as noted in the Report, however, we see no need for expansive works to improve it.
The Report refers to the need to create private more secluded areas for ‘customers’ (residents) to have meetings and discussions with Council Officers. There is a great deal of empty space on the ground floor and the first floor that could quite easily be turned into private spaces, as is required.
There is also an opportunity to create a secondary reception area on the left side of the ground floor, where currently ‘Registrations’ take place. We see no problem in dual purpose use of that side of the ground floor.
As to the issues with heating in the building, the current plan seems extravagant and unnecessary. We want to see officers explore alternative options to regulate the heat in the Civic Centre, possibly by installation of additional artificial walls.
Our view is that better use can be made of existing Hub centres across the borough, in order to provide a service to our residents out in the community. The money agreed by Cabinet to spend on redesign of the Civic Centre, can be better used to improve existing services that are more likely to directly assist residents with their needs.
Fundamentally, we believe it is impossible to justify the £1.96 million spend as agreed by Cabinet. It is the wrong time, the wrong look and could bring this Council into disrepute if this goes ahead.
Our residents want to see their Council focus on the issues that matter to them and for the vast majority that will never step foot in the Civic Centre, this decision will have no positive impact.