Portsmouth's Civic Offices have been running at 'less than a fifth full'

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PLANS for Portsmouth City Council to move out of its ‘unpleasant’ Civic Offices are ‘progressing’, its cabinet has been told, as a report shows it is operating at less than one-fifth of its capacity.

Speaking in July in response to a Conservative motion, its leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said the council ‘needs to get out’, describing the building as being ‘no longer fit for purpose’.

‘We need to grasp the nettle and say that the Civic Offices, as they now are, with all the things that we’ve learned during Covid, do not work for the city council,’ he said.

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Portsmouth City Council Civic Offices in Guildhall Square
Picture: Allan Hutchings (150076-182)Portsmouth City Council Civic Offices in Guildhall Square
Picture: Allan Hutchings (150076-182)
Portsmouth City Council Civic Offices in Guildhall Square Picture: Allan Hutchings (150076-182)

In the wake of the July meeting, a cross-party group of councillors was set up to consider the future of the council's headquarters and has met four times.

A cabinet report says the group has been told the building offers ‘poor environmental conditions’ to council staff and is ‘underutilised’.

Before the pandemic, the building was operating at less than half capacity and by April 2021 this had dropped to just 16 per cent of its 2,500-desk capacity used.

A separate building survey found that remaining at the site would cost the council £130m over the next 30 years while a full refurbishment would add £75m to this.

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The council said a full relocation would cost £36m on top of the cost of purchasing land.

A report at Tuesday's cabinet meeting said these findings and increasing repair and maintenance costs were an ‘acknowledgement that opportunities need to be explored for the future of the civic offices’.

Councillor Chris Attwell, the cabinet member for central services and a member of the cross-party group, said there has been ‘good, honest’ work being done.

‘We now do have a sense of direction of travel,’ he said. ‘Good progress has been made over the last couple of months.’

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The cabinet was also told a full report assessing possible options would be published in March and that this date was ‘realistic’.

‘That reflects the conversation at the last working group which should account for where we are now and what we need to do next,’ the council's director of housing, James Hill, said. ‘It may well be that we need to bring some interim reports, which may well consider third-party support.

‘But certainly we'll have many of the options considered by that deadline.’