Castlewood - residents will 'not see payback for a decade'
PUBLISHED: 07:00 06 October 2011
PEOPLE in Weston and North Somerset will not feel the real benefits of the council's Castlewood takeover for a decade.
North Somerset Council has moved more than 500 employees into the former Clerical Medical site in Clevedon, as part of a £26.8million project which will see Weston Town Hall undergo a major refurbishment.
But although the council has said the move will start to pay back in the financial year 2013/14, more than £4.4million of revenue which could have been spent on services across the district has been ploughed into the project, and it will take until 2020/21 for savings from the move to make up that money.
Opposition councillors on the authority say this money would have been better spent on services facing the chop as the council looks to make savings of £47.3million by 2015 after a harsh Government settlement.
From the last financial year to 2012/13, a total of £4.44million of revenue is being paid into the project, with the majority of that coming in two payments of £1.209million.
North Somerset councillor Mark Canniford said: “I understand why the need for new office space was felt, but I just feel that they should have looked into doing this in a more favourable economic climate.
“First the break-even was in either 2013 or 2014, and now it will be a decade, and that is without any emergency planning – if something goes wrong then the council could be tied to this without any benefits coming from it for 15 or 20 years.
“The reality is in this climate we should not have been spending this sort of money on new facilities like this.
“The council has spent far too much money on that office block, and I believe they did because there were no other ones in that area.”
Another authority councillor, Tom Leimdorfer, who has called on the council to reveal more details of the project, said: “I do not think it can be justified spending £4.4million of revenue which could have been spent on youth work, or social care, or a number of other services which are facing cuts at the moment.
“The ratepayers of North Somerset will not, therefore see a real payback or benefit from the savings for a decade.”
A spokesman for the council said: “We have made the far-sighted decision that for an up-front investment we will generate big savings over the medium to long term.
“Overall, the combination of reduced running costs, the efficient, flexible workspaces at Castlewood and the town hall and income from partner organisations will realise savings of £700,000 each year by 2015/16.”
The council also added that £960,000 had already been generated by the sale of empty freehold properties, while £413,000 is already being raised annually through rental income and energy costs, with the destination for these funds still undecided.