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Tory leader threatens ‘when handcuffs come off, I’ll have plenty to say’

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Nearly £100,000 a year is being spent by Cambridgeshire County Council on security on their former headquarters at Shire Hall, Cambridge.

But that only reflects part of the cost.

The strategy and resources committee was told this week that an overspend of £1.5m on the property service budget last year “is partly due to the continued cost of running the old Shire Hall site, £424k.

“Most of the expenditure is for business rates and progress is being made to reduce costs.”

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The economic crisis has hampered plans by the council to complete assigning the lease of a major part of Shire Hall, Cambridge.

Opposition leader Steve Count on the future of Shire Hall, Cambridge: ““Cambridgeshire County Council is currently paying £95,000 a year to safeguard shire hall, until its handed over to developer. How long for?”

Opposition leader Steve Count on the future of Shire Hall, Cambridge: ““Cambridgeshire County Council is currently paying £95,000 a year to safeguard shire hall, until its handed over to developer. How long for?”

The council had promised savings of up to £39m over 30 years when the decision was made in 2018 to leave Shire Hall and move to new purpose-built offices at Alconbury.

Frustrated Conservative county councillors claim they have been gagged from discussing why a developer, as promised, has not yet acquired the site.

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A window of opportunity to debate what is happening to the Shire Hall site in Cambridge presented itself this week at the strategy and resources committee which debated the security costs.

Opposition leader Steve Count, whose Conservative group was in power when the decision was taken to sell Shire Hall and move the council HQ Alconbury, tweeted this week: “Cambridgeshire County Council is currently paying £95,000 a year to safeguard shire hall, until its handed over to developer.

“How long for?”

He said the chair of the strategy and resources committee (Cllr Lucy Nethsingha) had determined the issue could only be debated in private session.

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“The answer is confidential, not my decision, theirs,” he tweeted. “But when the handcuffs come off, I will have plenty to say.”

Chris Ramsbottom, the county council service director for property, told the strategy and resources committee on Tuesday that the annual security cost of a “guarding service in place overnight and over the weekend” at Shire Hall was a large part of an overall security contract now being re-tendered by the council.

Council leader Lucy Nethsingha said the committee would be dealing with Shire Hall in private session. “What I think it's important to say in public session is that it would be unwise to not make some contingency in case things do not go as we hope”

Council leader Lucy Nethsingha said the committee would be dealing with Shire Hall in private session. “What I think it’s important to say in public session is that it would be unwise to not make some contingency in case things do not go as we hope”

“Once that campus is handed over to the developer, the annual total security cost will reduce,” he said.

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Cllr Chris Boden told the committee that a new contract was not due to come into force until April of 2024.

“So, are we -and this is not an exempt session this is in public session – but are we therefore to assume from that that the campus is not going to be handed over to the developer before the 31st of March 2024?” he said.

“That’s the assumption I make from it being included in this.

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“And if that is the case and given that it is more than almost a third of the amount of the total contract that we’re talking about, I think it’s reasonable to ask us when that handing over will take place because it is such a significant part of this particular contract.”

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Council leader Lucy Nethsingha said the committee would be dealing with Shire Hall in private session.

“What I think it’s important to say in public session is that it would be unwise to not make some contingency in case things do not go as we hope,” she said.

“So, while I think we need to make sure that we’re discussing in private session where we are with Shire Hall were we not to include it as part of the tender we might find ourselves in a difficult position.

“I don’t feel entirely comfortable about saying any more than that.”

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Cllr Chris Boden: “So, are we -and this is not an exempt session this is in public session - but are we therefore to assume from that that the campus is not going to be handed over to the developer before the 31st of March 2024?”

Cllr Chris Boden: “So, are we -and this is not an exempt session this is in public session – but are we therefore to assume from that that the campus is not going to be handed over to the developer before the 31st of March 2024?”

Cllr Count said: “I just want to put on record my ongoing concerns with what’s going on with Shire Hall and the fact that everything has to be in private session

“I have asked the monitoring officer for when we can talk about this in open session, and I’ve got a clear answer on that, and I just think that the sooner the public can understand what is or isn’t going on the better and I just wanted to put that on the record.”

Council leader Lucy Nethsingha has previously told me that the move from Shire Hall was not something that would have happened under a Labour/Lib Dem/Ind coalition.

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“And the decision about the future of Shire Hall would not have been made in way it was made and certainly the plans for Shire Hall are not the ones we would have chosen,” she said.

 

She said that having built the new headquarters, “it is too late to change that now; we have to work with it, but we are certainly facing some tricky positions around those decisions that were made then”.

She said she was still hopeful an agreed scheme for Shire Hall will come to fruition.

“But given the financial situation an awful lot of deals are up in the air -it remains a bit of a nightmare having to handle that as uncertain as it is.”

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In 2021 the council gave consent to officers to enter into formal contractual arrangements with Brookgate “thereby resulting in the disposal of the original Shire Hall building on a long lease for hotel use”.

It also provided for the redevelopment of the Octagon and Old Police House buildings as modern office accommodation.

Shire Hall, Cambridge, is scheduled to be transformed into a 225-room aparthotel.

 

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