Nottinghamshire County Council has approved its multi-million-pound new office building at Top Wighay Farm.
The £15.7m building, on the Hucknall-Linby border, has been in the pipeline for several years and will join the 805 new homes and business spaces already approved on the large former greenfield site.
The building will be the Conservative-led authority’s first carbon-neutral office and will have flexible accommodation and leasable spaces for local businesses once it eventually opens.
Its construction was approved in the council’s planning committee meeting at County Hall today (July 26).
Initial estimates for the new building, which will also host a raft of relocated services from numerous council buildings, had been £14.7m when it was first revealed in 2020.
However, it was confirmed last year that the cost has risen by at least £1m due to increasing construction costs and other fees resulting from Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.
The building comes as part of the wider ‘Investing in Nottinghamshire’ programme aimed at assessing the authority’s property portfolio.
A review conducted during the pandemic led to the number of sites leased or owned by the authority reducing from 17 to nine over the past year, bringing more than £1m in annual savings through maintenance costs and upkeep.
However, the meeting came less than two weeks after the council’s leader, Ben Bradley, confirmed to the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the authority’s current County Hall home could be closed or sold in the future.
A review is due to take place to assess whether the authority gets value for money from its West Bridgford base, which is expected to cost tens of millions of pounds in the coming years to bring up to scratch.
In his comments, Cllr Bradley said the Top Wighay building could be a destination for relocated services if County Hall did close, leading to concerns over travel assessments conducted for the building in its proposed form.
Councillor Daniel Williamson (Ash Ind), who represents Kirkby South, raised concerns about the potential County Hall closure and said Cllr Bradley’s comments “throw into serious doubt” exactly how Top Wighay will be used.
He moved to defer any decision until “proper assessments” had been conducted into the wider impact of a potential County Hall relocation, but his deferral was voted down by 10 votes to three.
Speaking in the meeting, however, Matt Neal, the council’s service director for investment and growth, said moving further services from County Hall to Top Wighay would require a separate planning application to be submitted and approved.
This, he told councillors, could include the creation of a new debating chamber, press gallery and other functions used by the council in making decisions at its West Bridgford base.
Commenting on the council’s wider plans for the building, he added: “It will improve our ability to deliver services to our communities and ensures the best possible working environment for our employees.
“It’s a key element of our wider programme to redesign the council’s estate and to transform how we deliver our services through a more effective and environmentally-sustainable portfolio.
“The new office base will benefit our communities and ensure our accommodation is fit-for-purpose, reflecting our change of priorities.”
He added departments dealing with “sensitive” issues like adult and children’s social care – which are currently based in leased office space – will find a new home at Top Wighay once it is complete.
And he confirmed the building is expected to be completed and open to council staff by autumn or winter 2024.
Prior to the meeting, concerns had been raised about the building’s impact on local infrastructure in neighbouring towns and villages like Hucknall and Linby when coupled with the wider Top Wighay development.
Objections were raised to the potential for extra traffic on the nearby A611 bypass, as well as the wider effect the plans could have on roads in and around Hucknall.
However, the council says traffic issues have already been mitigated by an expanded roundabout at the A611/Annesley Road junction, a new signal-controlled junction and a new footway and cycle lane along the road.
This work, the council says, has “helped to limit the impact of traffic on nearby towns and villages”.
And improvements to existing bus stops will be made alongside support for bus provider Trentbarton’s ‘Threes’ route, the authority added.
Members of the committee approved the building with 10 votes in favour and three against.