County council HQ will move to Alconbury Weald - decision

LGSS - the creation of Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire county councils - paid out £63,000 to the

LGSS - the creation of Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire county councils - paid out £63,000 to the retiring managing director John Kane. - Credit: Archant

Alconbury Weald is set to become the new home for Cambridgeshire County Council’s headquarters.

Aerial view of the Enterprise Campus and Alconbury Weald.

Aerial view of the Enterprise Campus and Alconbury Weald. - Credit: Archant

The authority approved the move at a meeting on Tuesday and councillors gave council chiefs the go ahead to acquire a site at Urban and Civic’s redevelopment of the former Alconbury airfield.

Members voted 35 to 21 in favour of the relocation, which is expected to save the council millions of pounds a year, and there was one abstention.

But there was concern from some councillors that the new headquarters would be an expensive white elephant if the county council disappeared in a likely reorganisation of local government.

They felt it was premature to approve a new headquarters at a time when the future of the authority looked uncertain. There were also worries the impact on 350 staff, many of whom lived in Cambridge, who would have to travel to Huntingdon to work and that there were access problems.

Aerial view of the Enterprise Campus and Alconbury Weald.

Aerial view of the Enterprise Campus and Alconbury Weald. - Credit: Archant

But there was also the view that the present Shire Hall, which dates back to the 1930s, was no longer fit for purpose and would need substantial sums of money spending on it.

It was also felt that even if the county was replaced, services would still have to be provided and that the site would be open for sharing with other organisations such as the Combined Authority which has taken over some local government responsibilities.

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St Neots councillor Derek Giles said: “I would welcome more local employment and I will be voting for it.”

But Brampton councillor Peter Downes said: “It seems to me to be inappropriate when local government is in a state of flux.

“I think it is premature to make this decision.”

Alconbury emerged as the top choice for a new council headquarters after coming narrowly ahead of the Northstowe new town settlement when a longlist of around 30 sites was whittled down to two.

The cost of the project has not been revealed but would run to many millions of pounds and the future of the present Shire Hall headquarters is also unclear - although the council wants to maintain a presence in Cambridge.

The council’s Commercial and Investment Committee came up with the Alconbury recommendation at a meeting last month.

The future of Shire Hall has been in question for some time and there have been suggestions that it could become a hotel or have another commercial use.

A report to the council said: “Relocating the council’s headquarters from Cambridge will distribute the economic impact that the council brings as an employing organisation around the county.

“Both the acquisition and construction costs associated with the move will have economic benefits to the economy. The alternative uses of Shire Hall will also have a positive impact on the Cambridgeshire economy.”

The report also said: “Access has understandably been a key discussion point since the council first considered the motion in 2016.

“Over time, as a result of staff turnover, the workforce off the future will migrate to travel patterns that they find personally acceptable, irrespective of the location.

“In the long term, therefore, in terms of staff recruitment, whether the location of the headquarters is Alconbury or Northstowe is not significant.”

The report said: “However, in the short term the council will undoubtedly lose some staff through this process.

“Given the challenges of recruiting roles that are based in Cambridge, the council may, however, have access to a greater resource pool through the relocation of the headquarters to either site.”

It added: “As part of the business case considered by the committee, an analysis of the potential staff resource pools of the future were identified.”

A council spokesman said: “Cambridgeshire County Council today (Tuesday May 15) ratified the decision of the Commercial and Investment Committee of Alconbury as the preferred location of the Council’s new Headquarters.

“Cambridgeshire County Council provides services for the whole of the county – today’s decision concerns a move of around 350 staff who mainly provide professional support services for the Council.”

The spokesman said: “The County Council will continue to have staff based in the city of Cambridge to provide essential services – for instance for registrations of births, deaths and marriages or delivering social work services for vulnerable children and adults.

“This move will allow the council to boost its presence in many other parts of the county too.

“No firm decisions have been made about the future of the Shire Hall site as this will now be marketed to bring the best return for the county’s council tax payers, with savings re invested in council services. The key historic parts of the site will always be protected.”