Councillor Coxshall introduced the report by thanking the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee for their comments. He referred the Executive to paragraph 2.4 which highlighted that Civic Offices extension would cost the Council £1.2 million less than the full CO1 refurbishment. The extension would not be built on Green belt and as a result, it would free up space, deliver arts and culture to the area and provide accessible key services to the public. Thurrock’s MP had been pushing for investment in Thurrock for many years.
Councillor Halden started discussions by saying that he was confused over some of the objections that had been raised by the press and opposition party members. The last administration had earmarked almost £10 million for works of which £4.2 million had been spent to update the Council offices before and there had been plans to make use of a redundant space which had not gone ahead. The current administration wished to put the rest of that money as part of the Grays Town Centre Regeneration but the opposition party was objecting to this.
Councillor Coxshall agreed that opposition party members had raised concerns at Full Council and Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee and enabled the Executive to be better informed of issues. He went on to say that the last administration had done a good job of updating the Council offices which was good value for money and now the current administration wished to use the remaining money of £4.8 million to deliver facilities for the public to use in addition to new homes in Grays. Councillor Halden agreed but thought it was a misfortune to see opposition to the Civic Offices Project as the leftover money was being put to good use.
Councillor Little was pleased with the report and said that the extension would provide a big office space to presents to be wrapped in for Looked After Children. She continued on by saying that having new homes in Grays would be good for the service’s care leavers as they would be close to the station, to town and to the Civic Offices.
Mentioning comments from opposition Councillors, Councillor Coxshall said that the new extension would revitalise the Grade II listed church and would enable it to be more appreciated. There had also been no objections from the church who had also given their support to the project. In addition, Thameside Theatre would benefit from the new extension because the registrar office would be moved to the new building thus freeing up the space in the Thameside Theatre.
On the running costs on paragraph 2.8, Councillor Maney questioned what the 30% of saved costs would be on. Councillor Coxshall answered that costs would be saved in environmental, energy and maintenance.
Councillor Hebb commented that the current civic offices were not particularly welcoming and did not provide much privacy for people. The new building would give a degree of privacy when needed and there would be cultural benefits to Grays. He went on to mention that Barking and Dagenham had regenerated over the years and had created some great open spaces and that the Civic Offices Project was not just about the offices, it was about regenerating Grays Town Centre.
Agreeing, Councillor Coxshall said that all 49 Thurrock Councillors could see this and the report should allay concerns of costs and show what the project was offering. Thurrock’s MP had been lobbying for Thurrock’s regeneration and the new PM was supporting the scheme that would bring Grays into the 21st century.
The Leader commented on many regeneration ideas that had been formed for Grays over the years from the last and current administration. With more homes in Grays, it would give families homes and create more business opportunities in Grays which currently had no night economy. He mentioned that the Council offices had been used for filming a BBC comedy show and had been chosen because of its décor that gave the impression of a 1980s design. The Council had evolved over the years and the amount of space originally used were now unused so improvement was needed.
Councillor Johnson agreed and stated that it was time to take action. The Leader agreed and said the planning application for the Civic Offices extension would be reconsidered at Planning Committee on 19 September 2019.
That Cabinet noted the contents of this report and recommended how they wish to proceed with the Civic Offices element of the Grays Town Centre Regeneration programme, having regard to any comments provided by the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee at their meeting held on 3 September.
Reason for decision: as outlined in the report.
This decision is subject to call-in.