Agenda item

Grays South Regeneration Project: Civic Offices Update


The Assistant Director Property and Development began by describing the Grays South Master Plan which included high quality places to live and visit. He described that work on this project would include repurposing the Thameside complex; and a new underpass for the railway line; increased housing near the town centre; a new Grays Shopping Centre; and the new Civic Offices building. He explained that the new Civic Offices building was critical as it set the tone for development and opened up governance processes, as well as promoting resident self-service and releasing land for housing. He added that in 2017, Cabinet had agreed for the proposal to go to the design stage, and the council had procured a consultancy team to do this. He mentioned that the hope was for the new plans to be submitted for planning in spring 2019 and would include consultation with South Essex College and St Peter and St Paul’s Church among others. He felt this was an elegant building and would be a bold civic presence in the high street.

The Assistant Director Property and Development  then talked through the designs starting with Page 40 of the agenda and the foyer of the new building, which would be a large, adaptable space primarily used as a reception and customer services areas, but could also be used as a venue to hold meetings, display museum exhibits, or launch activities. He added that a homeless waiting area would be separate from the foyer to maintain people’s dignity and give some privacy. A café was also included in the designs which would be for use by residents, visitors and members of the public. A registry office was also being included, as this would move registry services from the Thameside complex, to open it up for cultural development. He then described the plans on Page 41 and the separation between Members and the public, as Members would have their own entrance. In addition, the Council Chamber was laid out so everybody could see the Mayor, and the public would feel as if they were part of proceedings. He added that there would be views of the church, and could be used after hours for use by the public as it was a very large venue. He then mentioned that Committee Room 1 could also be used for weddings or other ceremonies, and this could bring in extra revenue for the council.

The Assistant Director Property and  Development then discussed the plans on Page 42 and how the Mayors Parlour would hold a sense of gravitas as the balcony would have views over the river, Grays town centre and the Church. Additionally, Members would be able to look into the Council Chamber from the second floor to give a sense of open democracy. He described how the Council Chamber would frame the Church, and provide a link to the heritage of Grays, as well as having views of the river and the square below. He described how the windows would be glazed so at night people can see in to give a sense of open democracy, and bring life to the street as residents could see people working, bringing activity to Grays particularly during winter time. He felt that the new designs were modern, open and airy, but could be used for other functions too. The Assistant Director Property and Development then turned the Committees attention to Page 47 and other precedents set, and how the final façade could look, for example the vertical emphasis and use of brickwork to link to Grays’ heritage through the use of materials and textures. He then talked Members through the emerging model on Page 49 and the bold statement the Civic Offices would make for people exiting the train station, as well as the new railway underpass modelled. He summarised by stating the Committee was asked to comment on cost options in Table A.

The Chair opened discussions by stating that the Committee was not decision making on this item, but simply understanding the plans and passing comments on to Cabinet to make the decision. He asked what the project would look like moving forward and what timelines were in place. The Assistant Director Property and Development replied that the report, including Committee comments, would be going to Cabinet in December, before entering into Non-Statutory Public Consultation in January. It would then go through the planning application process in Spring 2019, before awarding the design and building contract in Summer 2019, with the hope to be on-site at the end of Summer, with construction work lasting approximately 2 years.

The Chair then outlined the costs in Table B, and stated that he felt this was a point of principle as it was a decision of where to invest resources, and asked where the capital could be invested if not for this project. The Assistant Director Property and Development answered that this scheme increased opportunity as it unlocked potential for residential housing in CO1 and unlocked development at Thameside. He added that the funds had already been committed for this scheme, and had received previous approval at Full Council. He commented that the money invested in this would enhance the community and the reason for the additional capital was because of issues that arose at the detailed design stage, for example the slope of 2.6metres between the ground floor of CO2 and the new building. The Director for Finance and IT added that no other projects had been refused because of this project, and the total number of bids would be agreed this year and come back to the Corporate O&S Committee in January.

The Chair then considered the move of registry services from Thameside to the Civic Offices and how this move would open opportunity. The Assistant Director Property and Development answered that the registry services currently use a very large space in the Thameside Centre, and if the service was moved, Thameside could be used as a cultural hub with multi-use facilities. It would also increase effectiveness and efficiency, and increase revenue into the council.

Councillor Gerrish asked if the full business case had been considered as the perception and reality of this project may be different. He felt that as the council could not deliver all the services that residents wished for, but could regenerate the Civic Offices, it may not send the best message to inhabitants in the borough. Councillor Duffin expanded on this point that £205,000 was being spent on what was described in the report as a grand entrance, and residents may see this and the increase in their council tax and feel they are not getting value for money. He felt that the Civic Offices regeneration may not matter to residents and asked if this was a priority for the council. The Assistant Director Property and Development replied that the entrance would be simple and bold, and that the offices would be designed for residents to utilise as a community asset. He wanted residents to be proud of the new offices, and as a seat for democracy in the borough. He felt that the visitor experience was important, not just for trade but as a space for residents that could enhance the transactional nature of the building. He mentioned that the team was considering the foyer area being open 24 hours as a study space for students or a  s a place for people to work , and used the example of the Barbican centre which was regularly used by residents as well as visitors. The Director of Finance and IT outlined to Members that this was a capital project, and was not due to the increase in council tax.

Councillor Duffin added that some residents only interaction with the council was paying their council tax and many people do not engage with the Civic Offices building as transactions are completed over the phone or online. He felt that many residents would not use the new building, and although 24 hours opening was a good idea, public transport did not run 24 hours to match this. The Assistant Director Property and Development replied that there had been a positive channel shift to online and phone interactions with residents, but the space created would be multi-use which people could utilise in different ways.

The Chair asked how people would be encouraged to move south bound over the railway line, as there were currently businesses situated on the corner which enticed people. The Assistant Director Property and Development described the anchor tenant model and how people would move between them. For example, the Thameside Complex would be the cultural anchor tenant at the north end of the High Street; the State, the Shopping Centre and Morrisons would be anchor tenants in the middle of the High Street; and the new Civic Offices and the college would be the civic anchor tenant at the south bound end. He mentioned that the new underpass would also be more conducive to movement over the railway. He continued and stated that as activities and events would be taking place within the Civic Offices it would become a place to go and would create draw. In addition, talks were currently underway with the Thames Clipper to introduce a river bus stop in Grays, although this was in the very early stages, but this could draw people through to the river.

The Chair asked if the CO1 site would also have capability for communal areas or events. He also felt that as the new building would primarily be for administration work, although it would be busy during the week, it would become quieter outside of working hours. The Assistant Director Property and Development replied that the CO1 site would be for residential use only. He stated that the multi-use committee rooms in the new building it would also be busy outside of working hours, and would generate revenue. He added that as CO1 was for residential use it would increase footfall through the town, would support local businesses, and enhance the vibrancy of Grays. The Chair asked if discussions had taken place with the current occupiers, which would be displaced because of the new building. The Assistant Director Property and Development replied that the council needed to keep its commercial integrity so were following processes set out by external advisers. He explained that the council had engaged with the freeholders of the area and discussions were ongoing, and that leaseholders would be kept informed through the freeholder. He added there was a commitment to engage in more detailed discussions before the acquisition of the land.

Councillor Duffin felt that the designs looked good, but wanted to ensure this was sold positively to residents as they may only look at the headlines, rather than all the good points outlined by the Assistant Director Property and Development. The Corporate Director Place stated that it would benefit both residents and visitors, and although they were currently only in the initial phases, during planning and consultation residents could understand in greater detail.

A discussion then began on the detail of the Council Chamber including how many seats would be available for the public; how residents would be able to speak or present petitions during meetings; and the layout of the Chamber itself. A debate began between Councillor Duffin and Councillor Jefferies over whether an adversarial style Chamber was the way forward, or if a horseshoe shape design would work better.

The Chair summarised points made during the discussion and stated the Committee felt concern over the spend of the project and wished to see the full business plans, including how it could benefit residents, services and the borough as a whole. He stated that the Committee had given detailed feedback on the design of the Council Chamber and the benefit to residents as a venue.


1. Commented on the cost options set out in Table A

2. Commented on the report and the Cabinet recommendations which are:

1.2.1 Note the designs for an extension to CO2 presented at  Appendix A of the report

1.2.2 Agree the cost options set out in Table A at 3.4 below and agree capital of £1.8m in addition to the £380k agreed previously

1.2.3 Authorise officers to submit the following:

i. a full planning application for an extension to CO2 based on the emerging designs contained in appendix A

ii. And an outline planning application for up to 120 new residential units on the CO1 site

1.2.4 Authorise officers to begin a procurement process for the appointment of a main building contractor

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