ARDS and North Down Council has taken the first steps to slashing its administration buildings from 10 to just one.
The council has launched a strategic review of these administrative buildings following a business case that recommended that a single building, in either Bangor or Newtownards, would best serve the borough in the future.
Driving the review is the fact that around 400 council employees currently work in more than 10 buildings, the majority of which are inefficient to use, operate and maintain.
The council claims that its future need for office space will be 50% less than it needs today which, it is claimed, will generate ‘significant opportunities for change, drive efficiencies and provide opportunities for economic, social and environmental benefits’.
It has long been expected that the local authority will take office space in the new Queen’s Parade development at Bangor seafront, possibly even moving out of Bangor Castle in favour of a modern headquarters with all staff under the same roof.
In a statement which accompanied yesterday’s announcement of what is a major rationalisation of buildings, the council says it is ‘committed to prioritising regeneration benefits locally, by considering how any buildings it no longer needs can be released for new purposes.
“As an example, the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust has expressed interest in the council’s Church Street site in Newtownards to facilitate the expansion of its services at the Ards Hospital,” said the statement. “This would transfer up to 150 administrative health staff from outside the Borough into Newtownards town centre, delivering a significant boost to the local economy.
“A suitable, modern office building would promote better collaboration between council services, bring footfall to support existing businesses, offer the potential for shared service delivery with other key public sector agencies and provide a catalyst for new businesses to open up,” it added.
Council chief executive, Stephen Reid, said the local authority ‘manages a significant estate’ and recognises that several of the buildings that it currently uses for administration could be used better by other organisations ‘to deliver more positive local impacts’.
“ We also recognise that our future need for office space is smaller – significantly so, at an estimated 50% – because of new agile ways of working and because a fit for purpose building would offer us a more efficient footprint to work with, as well as significant environmental benefits,” he said.
“As such we are taking an exploratory first step to engage with property owners in Newtownards and Bangor to try to identify potential sites for a new civic/office hub for the council. Sites must be in the town/city centre footprint in order that they can contribute to our regeneration goals.”
He added: “Revitalising our estate is a complex and long-term ambition, with many interrelated projects. We know our plans will have to adapt as we move forward to meet the changing needs of the Council/ potential partners, external market conditions and ratepayers/end users.
“However, it’s critical that we start the process now; that we start working to create a Council estate that is more efficient and sustainable and ultimately less of a burden on ratepayers to maintain,” said Mr Reid.