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EXCLUSIVE: Council's secret plans for £15m taxpayer-funded new HQ

Friday 29th May 2020

MAIDSTONE Borough Council is planning to spend £15m of tax-payers’ money moving into a brand new ‘civic centre’ to be shared with Kent County Council, Daily Downs Mail can reveal.

Among the options are swanky new four and five storey office blocks office to be situated on the site of Maidstone East rail station, close to where the Royal Mail sorting office once operated from.

The final design could feature a spacious atrium, a gym, private terrace and a ‘green roof’ space on the four-acre site.

MBC would take up roughly one third of the available office space, according to documents prepared jointly by MBC, KCC, property company Willmott Dixon and architects Bond Bryan and seen by Daily Downs Mail.

The lion’s share of the £50m costs will be borne by Kent County Council which has already announced its decision to move out of its current HQ, Sessions House.

KCC will occupy a much larger part of the office complex.

MBC, currently based at Maidstone House in the centre of town, could get 11 meeting rooms, four members’ rooms and three kitchen and communal areas.

According to the papers, the council’s current offices cost £670,000 each year to rent plus a further £560,000 in rates and utility charges.

An opposition source said the Liberal Democrat-led authority’s timing was ‘poor’ given that the country is about to be plunged, according to some analysts, into the worst recession in 300 year as a result of the COVID19 pandemic.

The source added: “How is this going to go down with local people, who have just lost their jobs or are furloughed and stuck at home?

“They are living with terrible uncertainty and the council has decided to spend their money feathering its own nest.

“This is poor timing, given the country is predicted to enter the worst recession in three centuries. This is at a time when the council leader has been bleating about getting insufficient help from government to pay for providing coronavirus support.”

Cllr Eddie Powell, leader of the Maidstone Independents group at MBC, said: “This is the first I have heard of this. Doubtless it is another secretive plan cooked up by the council officers who currently run MBC. Yet again, the elected members, who are meant to make decisions, have been side-lined. It stinks.

“At this time, one would have thought MBC would take a look around them and see how others are struggling in lockdown. This is not a time to be throwing our money around. But perhaps they thought it is an good opportunity to sneak something else through.”

An MBC spokesman said: "Maidstone Borough Council (MBC) and Kent County Council (KCC), jointly acquired the former Royal Mail Sorting Office situated in the town centre in 2016. It was always a medium-term proposition in terms of the redevelopment of the site, and the councils are continuing to evolve their plans and strategies for this.

"Both MBC & KCC are currently independently undertaking options appraisals for their future office accommodation strategies, and for both, one of these options is for co-location at the former Royal Mail Sorting Office site redevelopment. However, neither council has made a decision on which option to pursue.

"At no time has Maidstone Borough Council made secret of this proposal which has been progressed and explored through a cross party working group involving Councillors from all political parties throughout the process since it began some years ago."

The new building will house both authorities in separate sections and may provide counter space for Kent Police.

Daily Downs Mail understands the force intends to sell off Maidstone police station as it is regarded as no longer fit for purpose and in poor condition.

It also suffers from the county town’s “often gridlocked” roads, according to a document seen by Daily Downs Mail.

Kent Police recently announced its decision to sell its Sutton Road headquarters – most likely to a housing developer – but refused to disclose the asking price.