Council's Clevedon offices could be redeveloped
- Credit: Google
The Clevedon HQ of North Somerset Council could be redeveloped for housing or employment in a major review of its property portfolio.
The authority is also set to invest up to £1.2million in the Town Hall in Weston and create new 'touch down' locations in other towns for staff to work in.
Responding to concerns about a rush to make changes during the pandemic, the authority's executive member for finance Councillor Ash Cartman said the proposals were not just a 'knee-jerk reaction to Covid' and no final decisions had been made.
The council is also looking at 26 underused sites that could be redeveloped – including small car parks and sports pitches, although many details remain confidential – to deliver affordable housing or protect the environment.
Former council leader Nigel Ashton said Castlewood was bought to bring staff together and described plans to redevelop it as 'short-sighted'.
He told the full council meeting on February 23: “I don’t think it’s necessary to do it in a rush.
“It’s more important than perhaps some people in the south realise.”
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Papers for the meeting said Weston’s Town Hall would be retained as the council’s primary office, while staff could vacate the Castlewood building next summer ahead of its redevelopment.
Cllr Mark Crosby, who represents Clevedon South, said Castlewood is one of the town’s biggest employers and 'if it was a factory that was being considered for closure we’d be devastated'.
“I strongly believe that the future for Castlewood should be subject to a much closer assessment,” he added.
Cllr Cartman, the executive member for finance and performance, replied: “This is not like a factory closure because there are no job losses.”
Like many employers, the council was forced to adapt to home working at the start of the pandemic, but it had already been looking at more flexible working.
Clevedon East’s Cllr David Shopland drew parallels between the pandemic and World War Two, saying: “In 1939, lifestyles changed dramatically. In 1945-46 they changed back, in many ways to what they were before. We have to see what the world will be like after the pandemic has finished.”
Cllr Cartman said the proposals were not just a 'knee-jerk reaction to Covid' and the decision-making process for each individual business case will be extremely rigorous.
He added: “One thing that unites us all is our concern for our staff and making sure they are not only productive for our members of our community but also happy.
“No final decision has been made.”
Cllr Bridget Petty, who has worked remotely for the past decade, said technology, video calls and internet had rapidly improved.
She said: “We do want some face-to-face meetings in the future but I think it’s about balance.
"If we want to address the climate emergency we need to recognise that asking people to drive long distances to different offices is not viable.”
The council voted to approve new asset, accommodation and development strategies.
The documents show that the council owns some 3,000 assets and is looking to redevelop 26 old and underused sites potentially worth more than £60million.
Public open spaces and woodland were ruled out but some sports pitches were included where replacements could be provided, as were a small number of car parks.
Only nine sites have been revealed so far.
They include advanced projects like Parklands Village, recently approved schemes like the 52 eco homes in Uplands, Nailsea, and sites that are allocated for redevelopment, including the Fryth Way playing fields, where up to 450 homes could be built as part of a wider project.