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Lockdown Forces SCC to Cancel HQ Move to Woking So Guildford Sees a Chance

Published on: 26 Apr, 2020
Updated on: 27 Apr, 2020

Surrey County Council’s move to Midas House, Woking has been cancelled.

By Martin Giles

The pandemic restrictions have forced the county council to cancel plans to move its headquarters from Kingston upon Thames to Woking. Now Guildford councillors are considering whether to make a new bid to bring SCC to the county town.

Because of the lockdown, the present tenants of Midas House in Woking, earmarked as the new County Hall, cannot move out so the council cannot get access to all of the building they need.

The constraints also mean procurement and commissioning of a contractor for the work to turn Midas House into a County Hall-style property are not possible. Yet another consideration is the impact of a depressed or inactive property market on the sale price of the Kingston site.

Cllr Will Forster

Will Forster, Lib Dem county councillor for Woking South, and chairman of the Task Group responsible for scrutinising the move, said: “Although I am disappointed the county council will not be moving to Woking as planned, this was inevitable with the pandemic. The council is rightly focused on fighting Coronavirus and protecting vulnerable local people.

“If this move went ahead, there was a real risk the county council would have purchased Midas House when the property market was at a high before the pandemic but sold County Hall in Kingston when property is cheaper afterwards. That would be unacceptable and not value for money for taxpayers.

“I am pleased the council has agreed with me that Woking remains the best place for the county council to have its civic heart once the pandemic is over.”

Cllr Julie Iles

County councillor Julie Iles (Con, The Horsleys] agreed that SCC had confirmed Woking is still the choice for the location, adding:  “I know we did look at various locations across the county, including Guildford, and we were unable to find anything suitable.

“The journey I will have to make from here to either Guildford or Woking is much of a muchness. One of the key considerations is to try to minimise the journey for all those who have to make it and ensure good access via public transport to meet our greener futures agenda.”

But Guildford councillors see the announcement as an opportunity to resurrect the historic town’s bid to be the new home for the upper-tier authority.

A proposal for SCC to join Guildford Borough Council (GBC) in Millmead had been considered. And with the pandemic proving home working is possible for many council-officer roles there is likely to be a reduction in the amount of desk space and car parking required by both councils, allowing commensurate savings, an important factor given the immense and increasing pressure on council budgets.

Cllr Caroline Reeves

GBC’s leader Caroline Reeves (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas) said: “I look on Guildford as the jewel in Surrey’s crown. As the county town of Surrey, I have always felt Guildford would be a better home for the county council than Woking, which is why we were in talks with the county last year.

“I would be very happy to revisit talks with Surrey County Council. At this time, although it is very difficult to predict what the end of this crisis will look like, and we cannot underestimate the impact the pandemic will have, one thing is certain, the roles of both authorities will be crucial to leading both the borough and the county’s communities into the future.

“I would be delighted to work with Surrey to establish the needs of each organisation and consider how we might work together more closely.”

Cllr Joss Bigmore

R4GV leader Joss Bigmore agreed. “Guildford, as the county town, is the natural place for the ‘civic heart’ of the county council,” he said. “I thought the decision to move to Woking was odd and we should use this opportunity to convince our county colleagues to revisit their plans, I am sure we can tailor a mutually rewarding proposition to try and bring the county council home to Guildford.”

But Brian Creese, chairman of Guildford Labour, felt the argument a red herring. “Those arguing about whether Guildford or Woking would be the best place for a new ‘County Hall’ are posing the wrong question,” he said.

Brian Creese

“Surrey has the most astonishingly expensive and wasteful governmental structure possible: 11 boroughs, each with its own civic centre, chief executive and 50 or so paid councillors, all replicated by the 92 SCC councillors and overall chief executive in their own expensive Kingston HQ.

“The result is a system where no-one knows who is responsible for what, and leads to wasteful prevarications while boroughs and county work out who has to do anything.

“Guildford Labour supports a policy of splitting up the county into three smaller unitary authorities. Less expense, fewer councillors, fewer executives and everyone will know where the buck stops. Surrey County Council is failing and will continue to do so whether its new centre is Woking or Guildford.”

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Responses to Lockdown Forces SCC to Cancel HQ Move to Woking So Guildford Sees a Chance

  1. Aubrey Leahy Reply

    April 26, 2020 at 7:03 pm

    House of Fraser, formerly Harveys, would be a perfect site.

  2. Roy Morgan Reply

    April 27, 2020 at 5:25 am

    Aubrey Leahy should not be so ridiculous. One of the most stupid ideas I’ve heard in years.

  3. Keith Francis Reply

    April 27, 2020 at 10:31 am

    These were just the excuses that SCC wanted. We could have had a new County Hall in place years ago if it had removed the proverbial digit instead of wasting £m’s of our council tax on consultants’ fees.

    Where is all the extra government money now being wasted by our councils? Certainly not on bringing back currently discarded services.

    Guildford will have to change its attitude. But where is a suitable site in the town which ignores cars, forgets the curse of cyclists who fail to obey the rules and has disjointed public transport links?

    Intriguingly part of House of Fraser, formerly Harveys (then known as Harvey’s Arcade), is where family member of a former Guildford Corporation Remembrancer had his antique shop.

    Editor’s note: The pre-war honorary remembrancer referred to is believed to be George Williamson. Some of his historical claims are now questioned, including the provenance of the “State Sword”, still carried in civic processions.

  4. Valerie Thompson Reply

    April 27, 2020 at 10:41 am

    Or Debenhams, nearer to the Borough Council Offices. It’s bigger and suitably ugly for a civic building.

  5. Kevin Smith Reply

    April 27, 2020 at 11:56 pm

    Brian Creese is spot on regarding Surrey County Council. It’s another old boys club.

  6. Aubrey Leahy Reply

    April 29, 2020 at 10:10 pm

    Checking a computer dictionary reveals the origin of the word stupid is from French “stupide” or Latin “stupidus”, from stupere to be “be amazed or stunned”.

    I am delighted to learn Roy Morgan was amazed at the brilliance of my suggestion to locate county offices to the centre of the town and that perhaps tomorrow he will tell us what he really thinks of my tongue-in-cheek suggestion.

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