Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The future home of Penzance Town Council

The main subject of the last full town council meeting was spent deliberating the options for the siting of the town council's office. Cornwall Council have offered PZTC space in St John's Hall when it is refurbished.  I was wondering what people thought to this? As there will be another meeting hopefully with more information soon, it would be good to get input now.

The debate raged (no literally raged), over three options put to the council. Take up the offer and be a small part of the building.  Maintain the status quo and stay in the same building (rented from Cornwall Council). Alternatively look to purchase the present offices. There are various pros and cons presented to the council, quite fairly and impartially by the town clerk it must be added.

The pros of moving across the road to John's are that local government would then be centralised in one place. The town council would effectively be placed in the nearest thing Penzance has to a town hall. The town council would join the One Stop Shop, the library and the remaining CC staff in Penzance. This was seen as a downside also, that we would get confused with CC, there is already considerable confusion between the function and responsibility of PZTC and CC. They are seperate bodies, not beholden to each other in constitution. There is a real danger that there would seem to be an incorporation of PZTC into CC and further reinforce the perception that both bodies do the same thing.

Principles aside,  there are also practical downsides. The Town Council would lack a dedicated entrance and would effectively be tucked away deep in the midsts of Cornwall Council's building. There would be limited space in the building and the present staff of the town council would only just fit. This would mean that no new members of staff could be taken on without rehoming the office again. With the prospect of expansion of our role and responsibility this could be short sighted. Besides this, there is a corporate duty for councilors over the council's staff, we have a duty of care. It does concern me that new office space would lack dedicated tiolet and kitchen facilities, which they currently have. So it would be a step backward for staff and visitors although there would of course be these facilities somewhere else in the building.

This alone is a massive debate, muddled further by the lack of detailed plans as to the space offered and what rent would be charged. Combined with the very real fear that planning applications are due to be submitted soon, a decision was needed. So to take the offer or not was a complicated argument with lots of reasons to agree or not.

Added to this was other option(s); to reject CC's offer and stay in the current premises or to seek to purchase that site from CC. Fear not this would be purchased with a loan rather than from council tax.  The council can borrow with extremely good interest rates and according to the calculations presented to the meeting would end up paying less than the current rent and gaining a permanent asset. For me this is an entirely seperate issue and I'm not sure how helpful to the decision making process it was, adding this in. The debate about taking up Cornwall Council's offer or not should have been a standalone meeting.  However there are rumours circulating around town that Cornwall Council is in talks to sell the present Town Council offices.  PZTC is not master of its own destiny in this. Perhaps that's why some cllrs believe we should buy our own building and start to be.

At the moment I do think we should consider seriously purchasing our own building and shouldn't shy away from taking such bold steps. I await the upcoming special meeting with more details of CC's offer, as it's taking place I'll have to consider it on its merits.  After all if it's a great office for free or very cheap, surely it's a no brainer.

Thoughts and comments as ever welcome by email, twitter or below. Particularly whether one idea is better than another or whether people really care about such things...