Proposals to move Canterbury City Council’s main offices into vacant space within Whitefriars shopping centre will be discussed at a meeting of the Policy Committee next Tuesday (25 January).

The report to councillors sets out plans to repurpose three empty spaces, all of which are in council ownership, that have the potential to house its various activities.

The first is the second floor (third level) of the empty former Top Shop unit in Whitefriars Street, next to Fenwicks. This would be the main site where council staff would be located, with a mix of desk spaces and meeting rooms. A small business reception would be created on the ground floor.

The council offices in Military Road
The council could be on the move from its existing offices at Military Road Photo: Canterbury City Council

The second site, also in Whitefriars Street, is empty space above Flying Tiger. This would be used for storage, such as additional IT equipment, ballot boxes and other equipment for running elections and document storage.

And the third location is the former RBS building in Rose Lane. This would become the council’s new front of house reception for residents, with secure meeting rooms for appointments. It would also house the print and mail service and potentially be a space for the council’s enforcement officers.

A fourth proposal would see the council’s existing CCTV control room at the current offices in Military Road move into space within the Whitefriars management suite, next to the shopping centre’s own CCTV room.

The committee report outlines how the council has reached this point following a decision by councillors in 2019 to move out of the Military Road offices, which are no longer fit for purpose, and find a new home.

The first plan was to build brand new offices in Wincheap, but the Covid pandemic has shown that new ways of working, with many staff successfully doing their job from home, can be implemented. As a result, the decision to move to Wincheap was formally rescinded in February 2021.

Moving to the vacant space at Whitefriars would result in fewer desks being available than at Military Road. The majority of staff would continue to primarily work from home long term and only come to the office for meetings and team collaboration.

There are a number of benefits to being at Whitefriars. It has good sustainable transport links being next to the bus station and close to both railway stations, while more staff in the city centre would lead to greater footfall and spending in shops.

And from an environmental point of view, repurposing existing built space is the top priority action for achieving net zero operational and embodied carbon in the Royal Institute of British Architects’ sustainable outcomes framework.

The cost of the Whitefriars proposal is currently confidential in order to protect the council’s ability to get the best price for the conversion work that would be needed should it be agreed, but it would be paid for by the sale of the Military Road site.

However, it is significantly less than the cost of the earlier Wincheap plan, in comparison to both today’s construction prices and the original cost.

Leader of the council, Cllr Ben Fitter-Harding, said: “These options for Whitefriars have been assessed in great detail and a lot of work has gone into putting forward a plan that adds up both financially and with supporting the city’s economy.

“There is much for councillors to discuss at the meeting and we will be considering the proposals very carefully. This is about how we set ourselves up to provide the best possible services to our residents in the years to come.”

The Policy Committee takes place at the Guildhall at 7pm on Tuesday 25 January and is open to the public. It can also be listened to live via the audio stream on the council’s website.

By Ed

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