Shropshire in crisis: Don’t spend £25 million on Shirehall, council staff should work around the county

Shropshire Council is one of the largest employers in our county. Yet it has concentrated most of his staff in Shrewsbury. That sucks jobs and expenditure from the rest of the county. It also means that its view of Shropshire is dominated by Shrewsbury and rural areas barely get a look in.

There is a different model. Back office operations could be devolved around the county to give the rest of the county would get an economic and democratic boost. Shirehall should be knocked down and replaced with a mix of offices and homes.

Shropshire Council’s plans for refurbishment of Shirehall are in disarray. A full council discussion of refurbishment plans has been cancelled twice. There has been no commitment to bring it to the December full council meeting.

The council is running out of day-to-day cash. Although most of the cost of refurbishing Shirehall will be capital expenditure it will have to be repaid. And members of all parties are baulking at the cost of extending the life of an unloved and unfit building. Others are unhappy that few places outside of Shrewsbury receive large scale investment.

Rather than invest a fortune in Shirehall, we should devolve its departments around the county. Market towns like Ludlow should host back office teams such as the call centre. Or finance and benefits, the team that collects council tax and provides housing benefits. There is a long list of other teams that do not need to be in Shirehall.

There are already planning officers based in Craven Arms but why are we not allowed to hold South Planning Committee meetings in the south of the county? The order to only meet in Shirehall means the committee travels more and has a bigger carbon footprint that it needs to have.

If staff are not involved in day-to-day policy making, they should not be in Shirehall. We live in an electronic age.

If council staff work in the market towns, they will spend money there. They will have a greater understanding of how market towns tick and how different they are from Shrewsbury.

Shirehall is a huge site. With car parking on site and nearby it occupies at least 3.7 hectares (c. 9.1 acres).[1] If two hectares were put aside for housing built at urban densities, around 100 small and affordable homes could be built.[2]

Shropshire Council’s infrastructure and spending should be spread around the county. Shirehall should be knocked down and a small replacement built for main council meetings and policy staff. The rest of this extensive urban site should be redeveloped, perhaps by Shropshire Council’s planned  housing company, perhaps by a commercial developer, or perhaps by both.

Notes

[1]. Shropshire Council is cutting back on staff. But it is adding 50 extra car parking spaces on tennis courts the local community wanted to bring back into use. That gives the lie to all talk of promoting sustainable transport. My calculations are that there are 3.17 hectares on the main Shirehall site and 0.54 hectares in the overflow car park on London Road.

[2]. Homes in the Shropshire Council area are built at one of the lowest densities in the country. Just 18 homes a hectare. Only 11 of 327 councils across England build at a lower density. It has one of the lowest asks for affordable housing from developers in the country, just 13%. That means that green fields are consumed and developments are less sustainable.