Councillors approve move of county HQ to Reigate

David Grantham, 15 October 2020

Entrance to the Canon site, off Cockshot Hill (photo by reigate.uk)

Surrey County Councillors have voted to approve the move of the county’s headquarters from Kingston to the former Canon site in Reigate, from 1 January 2021.

The vacant site, off Cockshot Hill, Woodhatch, was acquired by the council in the summer. The location has around 20 acres of land including 110,000 square feet of offices, nearly 500 car parking spaces, and landscaped grounds.

That won’t all be used for Surrey’s offices: in September 2023 Reigate Priory School is expected to move into a new building to be constructed in the grounds.

Councillors debate the plans

By Julie Armstrong, Local Democracy Reporter, 14 October 2020

Surrey’s council headquarters will be back in the county boundaries next year for the first time in more than half a century.

The county council (SCC) voted to officially designate the former Canon building at Cockshot Hill, Reigate as their new “civic heart” from 1 January 2021.

SCC has been based at County Hall in Kingston since it was built in 1893, even though Kingston was transferred from Surrey to Greater London in 1965.

There was dissent yesterday (13 October) from a third of the councillors who are worried about how accessible the Woodhatch building is.

It is about a 20-minute walk from Reigate town centre, but Natalie Bramhall, cabinet member for environment and climate change, said: “I appreciate for ladies with high heels they might baulk at that, but I’m sure many will drive.

“It really is about time that we moved our headquarters back into Surrey.”

It was left to other parties to try to delay the decision while considering whether transport connections complied with their commitment to climate change.

Woking county councillor Will Forster said: “After declaring a climate emergency, and complaining about Surrey’s roads being congested, the council cannot move to Woodhatch knowing that that move would encourage people to use their cars, sometimes for lengthy journeys across Surrey.”

Residents’ Association and Independent group leader Nick Darby, who voted for a delay, said: “Woodhatch is a wonderful location but I think it is telling that there are, I believe, 475 parking spaces, which seems to indicate that it’s not exactly sustainable.”

Green councillor Jonathan Essex said: “Myself and Nikki Barton [Independent councillor for Haslemere] highlighted the need for a sustainable travel plan and we were assured that this was the first step.

“If it’s the first step then we should have it first and then commit to move second.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Fiona White, who represents Guildford West, also reminded the council of their commitment to fight climate change.

But Residents’ Association and Independent councillor Ernest Mallett, who represents West Molesey, accused councillors of “making a mountain out of a molehill”.

He said: “Transport is not rocket science, anyone can arrange a shuttle service quite easily. This is really blowing up something that doesn’t exist.

“We’ll never get anything done if we concentrate on this sort of detail.”

Matt Furniss, cabinet member for transport, said they needed to give staff certainty and “stop discussing this and finally decide it”.

He said: “We can keep talking about this, I think it’s now time – we’ve made a decision, and we need to make that decision now to move into the East of Surrey, which will be a fantastic support to the local economy there as well.”

The council is also considering another three workspace hubs for council workers around the county.

A cross-party task group, set up to scrutinise the HQ move, suggested it would be sensible to first finalise these hubs, as well as completing a transport assessment.

Councillors voted 46 to 23 against a delay.

Liberal Democrat Will Forster, who chaired the task group, said he was disappointed they had not been listened to.

“Scrutiny is an important part of the democratic process, and time and time again it is undermined by the Tories locally as well as on the national stage,” he said.

“Putting the council’s headquarters on the outskirts of a town, where there is effectively no bus service or cycle lane, is not acceptable.”

SCC has been based at County Hall in Kingston since it was built 127 years ago in what was then Grove Road, renamed Penrhyn Road in honour of the first chairman of the county council.

Kingston was part of Surrey at the time but became one of the London boroughs in 1965.

The council announced back in November 2019 it planned to move its headquarters to Midas House in Goldsworth Road, Woking.

Councillor Nick Darby told the council £183,000 was wasted on this plan.

They did not buy the building and the idea was abandoned in April after coronavirus called into question how much space would be needed, though the council said they were still committed to Woking.

But in the summer the council bought the Reigate property after Canon relocated to Uxbridge.

County Hall is now up for sale and SCC intends to seek planning permission from Kingston London Borough Council for mixed use next year.