Westminster City Council’s Cabinet has given the green light to move forward with the refurbishment of the ageing City Hall in Victoria Street that will, in time, deliver substantial savings and new income that supports frontline services, as well as a greener and more energy efficient head-quarters in the heart of the city for many years to come.
Once completed, the work will realise savings by reducing the relatively high running costs associated with the current, and not fit for purpose, City Hall as well as generating future rent with the letting of high quality office accommodation in that same building. It will also provide a modern and efficient environment for visitors and Councillors as well as boosting productivity amongst staff who are based there.
The proposal to refurbish City Hall is another part of the council’s ambitious response to the challenge of austerity which has delivered savings of £200 million since 2010 and a further £100 million to be found before 2019. Most of these savings have been achieved through extensive efficiency programmes, continuously examining every way of reducing back-office costs whilst keeping funds for frontline services that support the most vulnerable. It is through this effective financial management that Westminster continues to enjoy the lowest council tax in the country.
As part of the council’s ongoing financial planning, there has also been a thorough review of the council’s property and investments to provide opportunities to reduce costs and boost income.
Part of this work has identified Westminster City Hall in Victoria Street as an ageing property that is increasingly costly to maintain and repair. Built in the 1960s, it is currently home to council staff and other tenants that occupy the 19-storey building. It wasn’t designed for modern work styles and the increased number of people using City Hall has placed unmanageable demands on a deteriorating infrastructure. Equipment failures are becoming increasingly frequent and this is seriously impacting on everyone who visits or works in the building.
The building also fails to meet current environmental standards, which does not match the council’s aspirations for a greener city. This also means that the council be unable to rent out any surplus space to bring in additional income as a result of not meeting those required standards.
Following exhaustive background work, it has been concluded that the most efficient and cost-effective way to refurbish the building will be to empty all existing staff and tenants from City Hall to temporary office accommodation whilst the refurbishment takes place. Subject to all relevant approvals including planning permission, workers would move out of City Hall next year and move back in 2019.
Councillor Robert Davis MBE DL, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for the Built Environment, said: “Westminster Council has the lowest council tax in the country and is always focused on delivering excellent services to support the most vulnerable. For example, we have recently received an `Outstanding’ rating for our Children’s services. We are able to achieve this through the most rigorous financial planning and looking at the best and most innovative way to use our assets, even at a time when the council will have made £300 million of savings by 2019.
“City Hall plays an important role in the public life of Westminster but it is currently underperforming, both for visitors and staff as well as environmentally. That’s why proposals have been brought forward to refurbish the building in the most efficient and effective manner that will deliver savings, future income and a 'greener' civic space for many years to come.”