North Herts District Council vote through extra £2.5m for ‘vanity’ project during private meeting

NHDC offices in Letchworth

NHDC offices in Letchworth - Credit: Archant

Fears are growing over yet more overspending by North Herts District Council – this time with an extra £2.5 million approved for a council office refit.

Terry Hone

Terry Hone - Credit: Archant

The seven figure amount will be used to refit the local authority’s head offices in Gernon Road, Letchworth, after being agreed at a private session during a council meeting on Thursday last week.

The staggering amount in an age of austerity – when vital community services are being cut or scaled back – comes on top of more than £7m which has already been allocated to the site, making a total of more than £9m.

The building, which houses 311 staff and at 17 different council departments ranging from council tax collection to ‘economic development’, was purchased from a private landlord in 2012 for £3.668m.

A further £3.45m was allocated for a refurbishment last year – as developers insisted it would allow it to remain in Letchworth, as opposed to building new offices. However questions are being raised as to why another £2.5m of taxpayers money is now set to be used for refit purposes.

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A resident blasted the council, saying: “Why does the taxpayer have to pay nearly £10m for this vanity project which should never have been authorised. It again demonstrates the absolute incompetence of NHDC officers who aren’t qualified to undertake this work.

“In any other business heads would roll, but not it seems at NHDC. When will council leader Lynda Needham realise it’s time for her to resign?”

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Councillor Terry Hone, responsible for finance, said: “We purchased the offices with the intention of carrying out necessary refurbishments to provide long term value for money. The building needs to become fit for purpose, reduce its carbon footprint, improve appearance and working conditions for staff. We’re also exploring sharing office space.

“Additional costs relate to the removal of asbestos, roofing works, a more energy efficient cooling and ventilation system.

“A tendering process for the refurbishment project, and once this process is complete we will have a clearer picture of the scale of the increase in project costs.”

The council would not confirm information the Comet has received that suggests there have been no tenders lodged so far.

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