Star comment: Creativity needed on Shirehall
How things change. A couple of years ago, the council’s then-leader Keith Barrow was keen to sell off Shirehall to pocket several million pounds and find a cheaper alternative.
Although it was never actively marketed for sale, it was understood that if an offer was made the authority would be willing to move out. Today, the council is considering spending £18m refurbishing the building. U-turns don’t get much bigger.
In the current financial climate, £18 million is a vast sum. Yet if for a moment we put to one side the figures involved, there is a more pressing issue. Gradually, Shirehall is becoming unfit for purpose and something must be done to either make sure it is fit for use in the modern era, or else seek a replacement.
Shirehall was built in a different era when eco-ratings were not a pressing concern. It is not as efficient as modern buildings and the levels of use are well-below capacity. The challenge for the council is in achieving value for money for the taxpayer.
Investing £18 million is worthwhile if it is indeed a more cost-effective solution for the council than setting up elsewhere. That is the recommendation going before councillors today – although there will no doubt be those who are of the view that other buildings might be cheaper to run, more suited to the council’s needs and do not cost a small fortune.
The move must be rigorously scrutinised and challenged to ensure value for money is achieved – and that it becomes a well-used building that is fit for purpose. There is also the potential, surely, for other organisations to share some of its facilities given the level of usage.
The council might look at whether it is lawful, practical and cost-effective to sub-let space to other businesses in Shrewsbury. The town has a need for office premises, particularly with the disproportionately high number of small and medium-sized businesses in the town, and generating income while helping to promote local businesses would be welcome by all.
Flexible, creative thought is required so that Shirehall does not become either obsolete or a drain on the county’s precious resources.
The questions facing councillors are substantial and they have to get it right. Working cost-effectively and efficiently, they must find a solution that is in the community’s wider interest.