County council comes to Reigate

Surrey County Council’s new HQ at the former Canon site, Woodhatch
By Julie Armstrong, Local Democracy Reporter, 23 December

A 127-year chapter of Surrey County Council’s history comes to an end this month as it moves out of its Kingston base and into Surrey.

County Hall is under offer, and a chamber is being created at the new Reigate headquarters in Cockshot Hill, Woodhatch.

The former Canon building is expected to be ready to hold the first full council meeting of the new year on 16 March.

Leigh Whitehouse, Surrey County Council’s executive director of resources, said: “All staff have been written to, informing them of their new administrative bases.”

Those based at County Hall who would have far to commute have been allocated alternatives at Ashley Park House in Walton, Fairmount House in Leatherhead, Merrow in Guildford and Quadrant Court in Woking.

There is also a building in Weybridge that cabinet agreed to buy last Tuesday (December 15), as they were unable to secure extra space at Ashley Park House.

Mr Whitehouse said it was ‘regretful in terms of the additional uncertainty that’s affected staff’, but a better outcome long-term.

He said: “We’ve strained every sinew to come up with a solution we think is an easier commute for them than some of the alternatives.

“We’ve landed on something that we think is a good option, it’s just unfortunate it’s come through so late in the day.”

He said the sale of County Hall was progressing as planned with their preferred bidder.

The council considered relocating to Midas House in Woking but it was decided to be unsuitable. £183,000 is believed to have been wasted on this plan.

It then bought the Reigate property and 20 acres of land this summer, after Canon relocated to Uxbridge.

Part of the grounds will be used by Reigate Priory Junior School from 2023.

There are concerns about accessibility and the environmental impact of relying on cars.

Conservative Walton councillor Rachael Lake said: “Our bus services in Surrey for disabilities when you need help are outstanding. But we have so many stations that are not disabled compliant.

“If you take Guildford as an example, if you get out on one side of the platform, it’s nearly a mile to get around if someone’s disabled to get to the platform opposite.”

Brendon Kavanagh, the council’s organisation transformation portfolio lead, said they were currently surveying staff and councillors, which will inform a travel plan in the new year that would consider disabilities.

“We’ve had 530 responses from officers, and a great volume of those, something like 400, are saying they would drive,” he said. There are about 475 parking spaces on site.

Ashtead independent councillor Chris Townsend said: “I’m certainly going to be coming by car whatever happens.

“I have no alternative other than to use the train, which would mean me going into London and come back out again.

“I would have thought that was true for many people, particularly the majority of councillors.”

The council is spending £5m fitting out and equipping their new offices with technology and expects to save about a fifth on running costs each year (£410,000).

Mr Whitehouse said Woodhatch will use 18% of the gas and 25% of the electricity that County Hall uses in a year, at an annual saving of £106,000.