Losing Kingswood Civic Centre ‘would be a disaster’

Published on: 04 Nov 2015

THE CLOSURE of Kingswood’s civic centre would have “devastating effects” on the area, including further unemployment and loss of trade.
That’s the opinion of Labour councillors who say the ruling Conservative group on South Gloucestershire Council is “hell bent” on leaving the High Street base, which only recently saw a £6million refurbishment.
Tories say they are “fully committed” to Kingswood claiming no decisions will be made “without taking on board the opinions of everyone in South Gloucestershire who wants a voice”.
The civic centre houses a base for police following the closure of the local station as well as a One Stop Shop. It also hosts council meetings which can be attended by members of the public including Area Forum meetings. It is believed nearly 250 council office staff are based there.
Managers and workers at the civic centre received a letter from the council saying it was reviewing office accommodation to see if savings could be made.
The letter stated: “As part of this programme, Matthew Riddle, leader of the council, has asked us to particularly review the use of Kingswood Civic Centre and whether we need this office space in addition to Badminton Road (Yate) in the future.
“We will look at a range of options in Kingswood and will also start to think about how we could potentially accommodate more staff and facilities, including a council chamber, at Badminton Road.
“This work will take place over the summer and we will share information on the options and what this might mean for staff, customers and partners in the early autumn.”
Labour has launched a petition saying the closure of the civic centre would signal another blow to Kingswood and neighbouring areas and would come hot on the heels of the loss of Soundwell College and the rejection of a Minor Injury Unit at Cossham by Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt MP.
Staple Hill councillors Shirley Potts and Ian Boulton are among the Labour members who are campaigning to keep the civic centre open.
Cllr Potts said: “The closure of the civic centre would have devastating effects on Kingswood and the surrounding areas. These would include the removal of many jobs from an area with the highest level of unemployment and the loss of trade from the Kingswood town centre.
“The civic centre is not just an office building but a public centre where residents can access council services and exercise their democratic rights by attending and speaking at meetings where decisions are being made which will affect them. This will no longer be possible.
“The gain in financial terms will be relatively small. Yet it seems that no attempt is being made to investigate alternative uses of the surplus office space which may generate income.”
Cllr Boulton said: “The council spent over £6 million in refurbishing the civic centre in a bid to save on its running costs as a response to the global economic crash of 2008. To now suggest the building is surplus to requirements only four years after it reopened shows a breath-taking lack of foresight and profligate waste of public money.
“After the closure of our local college and the failure to deliver our much needed Minor Injuries Unit at Cossham Hospital this proposal is yet another blow to our local services since 2010.”
The authority is under increasing pressure to cut budgets in order to make huge savings.
The Council Savings Programme (CSP), which began in 2014, aims to deliver £36m of savings by 2019/20 on top of the £43m which has been saved so far.
Conservatives, who say £450,000 a year could be saved by closing the civic centre, denied they are turning their back on Kingswood.
Council leader Matthew Riddle (Con, Severn) said: “The review being undertaken of our office space is to ensure that we are spending taxpayers’ money wisely, and are not spending money on empty office space that could better be spent on frontline services.
“The council exists to serve local people, not to spend other people’s money on office space that isn’t even being used. We will be consulting on this at the appropriate moment and will make no decisions without taking on board the opinions of everyone in South Gloucestershire who wants a voice.
“Whatever the outcome, frontline services such as the One Stop Shop and police presence in Kingswood will continue to deliver the high quality services that local people currently enjoy.”

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