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HQ plan spurned


Plans for a stylish Newark base for Nottinghamshire County Council, made public for the first time today by the Advertiser, will remain disused in an architect’s files.

The building, designed as a landmark feature opposite the castle, will never be constructed, after County Hall turned its back on the project.

As the Advertiser revealed in November, the councilhas decided in secret to strip virtually all of its offices from Newark and move them to Ollerton.

Talks about the new building on Beastmarket Hill, opposite Newark Castle,started five years ago when Labour controlled Kelham Hall, the Advertiser learned this week.

At that time Mr Stan Crawford was the district council leader.

He has since become managing director of Sherwood Energy Village, Ollerton, where the county is to move its 200 Newark staff in May.

Mr Crawford said this week that although he was aware of the 2002 talks about a new base for Newark, he was not involved.

He said: “It is something of an irony that the offices are to move to the Sherwood Energy Village, after I was made managing director.

“There have been indications that a deal was done between myself and the county council, when in fact it was nothing to do with me.

“The offices were built more than a year ago by Birch Builders, who have leased the land from us, but then they built offices speculatively, knowing we were a booming area, and they wanted to be part of that.

“The county council is now leasing the offices from them.

“They could have rented them to anyone, but it just happens to be the county council they have done a deal with.”

The county council has previouslyclaimed it could not find a suitable site for new offices in Newark.

However chartered surveyor Mr Brian Fisher of Main Street, Flintham, formerly the senior partner of Fisher Hargreaves Proctor, said this week that he was approached by the county council in 2002 to suggest sites for new offices that would house all Newark-based council staff on one site.

Plans were drawn up by architect Mr David Dakin of The Green, Collingham, showing a 30,000sq ft glass-fronted offices, with carparking.

County council officers have said that there were obvious planning reasons why the scheme should not proceed.

But the district council’s head of planning, Mr Mike Evans, this week described that claim as inaccurate.

Mr Fisher twice met county council estates officers to discuss the plans, which would have seen the existing market space and carpark moved along Tolney Lane.

The former abattoir site would have been bought by the district council from Mr Fisher’s client, to allow for the public carpark to be extended, and the market and performance area would have been moved to the north end of the carpark.

Mr Fisher said the site was suitable because it was close to main roads and the town centre.

“The main concern was that it be sympathetic in design to the castle because it was a sensitive site. They were seriously considering it,” he said.

Mr Fisher said he had trouble getting a response from the county.

Eventually he was told that more talks were needed with senior councillors, then after about a year contact stopped.

Mr Fisher said: “I do not think due consideration was given to this site, despite them saying there were no suitable sites in Newark.

“It looks as if this was just an excuse so they could eventually go to Ollerton.”

By this time talks were abandoned, elections had left Labour depending on the support of independents to maintain control of the district council, and eventually the Tories took over.

A well-placed source said it was a long standing aim of the county council to build an office in each of its districts, and bring resources together on one cost-effective site.

The source said: “Offices have been established in all the large towns in the county, but Newark was always bottom of the pile politically.

“The council has looked at Labour-controlled areas in the west and north of the county like Mansfield, Worksop and Sutton-in-Ashfield, as the places to sort out first.

“I do not think Newark was ever discussed as an option in terms of budget and planning.”

The source said the council’s highways depot on Kelham Road offered a viable option for offices, but he speculated that the council was probably holding onto the land for future residential development.

The move to Ollerton, which strips virtually all of the county council’s bases from Newark, has been criticised by councillors and the MP for Newark, Mr Patrick Mercer.

The district council’s head of planning, Mr Mike Evans, said he recalled the discussions and rhe raised concern about changing the area so soon after the council had redeveloped the Riverside Park.

He said there was no reason the site could not have been considered further, although the county council had concerns about extra traffic entering and leaving Tolney Lane over the mini-roundabout.

He said the Environment Agency was concerned about development of the abattoir site because of a risk of flooding.

Mr Evans said: “There were plenty of other sites they could have looked at.

“The Magnus Buildings, where their education office used to be, could have been developed into offices, and the police were talking about moving to their new station at that time, so were vacating the old station.

“The municipal buildings on Baldertongate, near to the library, could perhaps have been developed.

“These things were never investigated in detail, but we could have found plenty of options.”

Mr Crawford said he understood the blow the loss of offices was to Newark, but Ollerton was still within the district.

He said Ollerton had lost its two main industries in recent years so it was good news for Ollerton, particularly if workers spent money in the town’s shops.

Mrs Liz Sanders, a county council estates officer involved in the 2002 negotiations, refused to talk to an Advertiser reporter and referred them to the council’s Press office.

A council spokesman, having spoken to Mrs Sanders, then told the reporter that Mrs Sanders could not remember the precise reason, but believed the plans were dropped because of issues related to moving the carpark.

She said that Mrs Sanders thought there was also an issue with the former abattoir site and its effect on the neighbouring gipsy site if it were developed.

The chief executive of Newark and Sherwood District Council, Mr Andrew Muter, was the assistant chief executive of the county council from 1997-2006.

Mr Muter said he could not remember plans for building offices in Newark ever being discussed by the council’s corporate management team in those nine years, meaning it could never have been a serious prospect.

Highways staff, occupational therapists, adult and child social services, care in the home, child protection, fostering, administration for the Blue Badge disable scheme, deafness and disability and road safety, will all move.

This will make Newark the only large population centre in the county without a county council office base.

Mansfield has several office and administration sites, the largest being Meadow House on Littleworth.

The Mansfield Brewery company built the office building a short while before it closed, so the county council then bought the office buildings for its Mansfield staff.

It bought offices in Gedling in the former Home Brewery building in Daybrook, around five miles from County Hall in West Bridgford.

A new office building for 450 workers is being built on Station Road, Sutton-in-Ashfield.

New offices with a library, registrar’s office and youth drop-in centre, are to be built on Memorial Avenue, Worksop. It also has offices in the centre of Worksop in a building shared with Bassetlaw District Council.

Retford also has offices for children’s services staff on Chancery Lane, and a combined county and district council contact point in the town centre.

Tolney Lane was among options explored but then dismissed as possible new locations for offices since 2001.

Land on Bowbridge Road and Sleaford Road, Newark was dismissed after both were bought first by developers.

In November a county council spokesman said the Tolney Lane option was not pursued because of potential problems with planning permission, although a planning application was never submitted.

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