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County Council Back in Surrey Again, Opening Reigate HQ in New Year

Published on: 18 Oct, 2020
Updated on: 20 Oct, 2020

The former Canon UK headquarters Reigate, Surrey. Photo Canon UK.

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

Surrey’s council headquarters will be back in the county next year for the first time in more than half a century.

The new HQ, the former Canon building in Reigate, off Cockshot Hill, Woodhatch, was bought in the summer and is now officially designated Surrey’s new “civic heart” from January 1.

An earlier option to move to Guildford was discounted, see: County Hall Move – Decision Expected In Weeks.

Kingston Upon Thames has been home to County Hall since it was built in 1893, although the Royal Borough was transferred from Surrey to Greater London in 1965.

But there were objections from councillors at the October 13 meeting worried about accessibility.

The new 20-acre landscaped site is about a 20-minute walk from Reigate town centre. Cllr Natalie Bramhall (Con, Redhill West & Meavale), cabinet member for environment and climate change, said: “I appreciate ladies with high heels might balk at that, but I’m sure many will drive.

“It really is about time we moved our headquarters back into Surrey.”

Lib Dem Cllr Will Forster (Woking South), said: “After declaring a climate emergency, and complaining about Surrey’s roads being congested, the council cannot move to Woodhatch knowing that move would encourage people to use their cars, sometimes for lengthy journeys.”

Cllr Nick Darby (Residents’ Association and Independent group leader (The Dittons), voted for a delay. He said: “Woodhatch is a wonderful location but there are, I believe, 475 parking spaces, which seems to indicate it’s not exactly sustainable.”

Cllr Jonathan Essex (Green Party, Redhill East), said: “Myself and Nikki Barton [Independent, Haslemere] highlighted the need for a sustainable travel plan and we were assured this was the first step.

“If it’s the first step then we should have it first and commit to move second.”

Cllr Fiona White

Lib Dem Cllr Fiona White (Guildford West), also reminded the council of their commitment to fight climate change.

But Cllr Ernest Mallett (Residents’ Association and Independent, West Molesey), accused councillors of “making a mountain out of a molehill”.

He said: “Transport is not rocket science. Anyone can arrange a shuttle service quite easily. This is really blowing up something that doesn’t exist.

“We’ll never get anything done if we concentrate on this sort of detail.”

Cllr Matt Furniss

Cllr Matt Furniss (Con, Shalford), cabinet member for transport, said they needed to give staff certainty and “stop discussing this and finally decide it”.

“We can keep talking about this,” he said. “We’ve made a decision, and we need to make that decision now to move into the east of Surrey, which will be a fantastic support to the local economy there as well.”

The council is also considering three other workspace hubs for their workers around the county.

A cross-party task group, set up to scrutinise the HQ move, had suggested it would be sensible to finalise these hubs first, as well as making a transport assessment.

Cllr Forster, who chaired the task group, said he was disappointed they had not been listened to. “Scrutiny is an important part of the democratic process, and time and time again it is undermined by the Tories locally as well as on the national stage,” he said.

“Putting the council’s headquarters on the outskirts of a town, where there is effectively no bus service or cycle lane, is not acceptable.”

Councillors voted 46 to 23 against a delay.

Grade 11-listed County Hall is now up for sale and SCC is seeking planning permission from Kingston London Borough Council for mixed use next year.

In November 2019, the county council had announced they would move headquarters to Midas House in Goldsworth Road, Woking.

Cllr Darby said £183,000 was wasted on this plan, abandoned in April over what was said to be space requirements caused by the pandemic.

The new County Hall would be sharing its 20 acres with Reigate Priory School, expected to move into a new building in 2023

But any switch to unitary authorities could limit the future of the Reigate HQ. Even if Surrey did become a single authority the requirements would be significantly different.

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Responses to County Council Back in Surrey Again, Opening Reigate HQ in New Year

  1. Dave Middleton Reply

    October 19, 2020 at 3:32 pm

    In the short term, going by the fact that there’s a bus stop virtually outside the entrance to the premises at the Junction with Hill House Drive, There must the possibility of bus travel from Reigate to the new premises. If not, then surely a suitable service could be set up, after all, aren’t the county council responsible for running some routes?

    Long term, perhaps a cycle route could be created, which would benefit the council staff and indeed the locals.

  2. Monica Jones Reply

    October 20, 2020 at 9:17 am

    I would remind Cllr Bramhall access is not just “challenging” for persons in high heels but for pushchairs, wheelchairs and the frail and poorly mobile.

    And I can’t believe there is a bus stop but no service. It appears SCC services are becoming more out of reach.

  3. Stuart Taylor Reply

    October 21, 2020 at 9:44 pm

    How many members of the public actually go to county hall? I doubt many from West Surrey make that journey to London now. Usually to contact SCC you ring them up, and now we’re all experts on video calls, it will be easier still to participate in council meetings. Hopefully for staff there’s enough bodies to make public transport a viable proposition in time for staff returning to the offices.

  4. Keith Stainer Reply

    October 23, 2020 at 8:03 am

    Surrey must be the laughing stock of the local authority network, it’s taken the county council over forty years to decide to move its office into the county. Guildford Borough Council has, after forty years of dithering, yet to resolve the redevelopment of the town centre Leapale Road, North Street, Commercial Road triangle. What other forty year fiascos can readers add to the list?

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