BARRATT HOLMES, our development correspondent, has discovered that by taking in corporate ‘lodgers’, the purpose-built local authority offices won’t be able to provide desks for 40% of the council’s staff
Fisher’s Folly, the purpose-built local authority “hub” which was built under Mike Fisher’s Tories for the inexplicably expensive price tag of £140 million and opened less than three years ago, is to have a further two floors emptied of council staff to make way for a second corporate lodger.
It means that 40 per cent of the council’s staff working in the building will not have any allocated desk space at which to do their work.
Arcadis, the Dutch-based design and management consultants, are due to complete the move of 250 London office staff to the top two floors of the Croydon Council HQ building by the end of this month, under a deal worth £7.5 million in rent paid to the borough over a decade.
Now Inside Croydon has discovered that the council is taking in a second tenant, on floors 9 and 10. It will mean that Croydon staff will occupy no more than two-thirds of the glass palace which was originally intended for the council’s sole use.
Under the Labour-run council’s plans, there will in future be just six desks for every 10 staff members working in Fisher’s Folly.
“The executives call it hot-desking,” one frustrated member of council staff told Inside Croydon, “but most of us are luke-warm to the idea. It just means we have less time in the working day to do our jobs and serve the people of Croydon.
“Many of us have had to queue up in the office in the morning just to be able to sit at a desk and get on with our work, to make calls to clients or answer their emails. With a 10:6 staff to desk ratio as the council’s proposing, that can only get worse.”
Unlike the Arcadis deal, there was no flourish of council press releases for this piece of news, nor fanfares from the council leader’s office. Instead, it was slipped out quietly in a report following July’s council cabinet meeting. Which can only mean that the agreement is not worth much in monetary value, though it could cause considerable disruption to the work of council officials.
Fisher’s Folly, which some still mistakenly refer to as “Bernard Weatherill House”, is the country’s most over-priced council building.
Built as part of the CCURV urban regeneration partnership with John Laing dreamt up under former council CEOs Jon Rouse and Nathan Elvery while the Tories thought they were running the Town Hall, Fisher’s Folly stands as a glass monument to what happens when local authorities think that they can mix it with the big boys of the property development world.
Opened in September 2013, the building was initially plagued with problems, including a leaking roof (do Arcadis know about that?) and staff toilets which flooded because the “automatic” taps malfunctioned.
The building has recently undergone some alterations – at public expense, naturally – to accommodate Arcadis by providing secure, separate entrances.
“We’ve always said that we’re absolutely committed to delivering value for money to local taxpayers,” was the line offered by Newman, the Labour leader of the council, when the Arcadis deal was announced, both by the company and the borough, at the end of May. This deal is on a 10-year lease, valued as being estimated as worth around £7.5 million to the council’s ever-depleting coffers.
The second tenant, whose identity remains a closely guarded secret on Cost A Mint Walk, is expected to move into their new digs on floors 9 and 10 of Fisher’s Folly in October. But on an unusually brief, and unlikely to be economical, “temporary” one-year lease.
Commercial office rentals are usually fixed over the mid- to long-term; this week, for example, over at Ruskin Square by East Croydon Station, the developers signed a 25-year lease with HMRC for one of its new office blocks, in an agreement worth more than £200million.
Sources within the commercial property business estimate that unless Croydon Council has set a significant premium on its short-term lease, the second corporate tenant will be paying between £500,000 and £600,000 for their 12-month use of 17,000 sq ft of office space.
Based on decisions reached at July’s cabinet meeting, the report states: “Agree that the Council enter into a 1 year lease for the letting of the 9th and 10th floors of Bernard Weatherill House (BWH) to the parties and on the terms detailed in the associated Part B report.”
The report, issued under the supervision of Simon Hall, the cabinet member for finance, also says: “Through adopting a more flexible approach to working and adopting an average 10:6 desk ratio it has been identified that between 50-60,000 sq ft of space could be released within BWH. Work has started to undertake the necessary re-organisation of the location of existing teams to allow space to be released and this will take place on a phased basis to minimise disruption and multiple moves for the teams involved. The first phase has allowed the release of the 11th and 12th floors of BWH and further moves will release the 9th and 10th floors.”
With the space allocated to Arcadis and the mystery lodger across four floors, that paragraph suggests that the council could yet be looking at renting out another 14,000 sq ft – at least one more floor.
The “associated Part B” report referred to is secret, and is not shared with most councillors, never mind Council Tax-payers who are paying for Fisher’s Folly, or having to put up with slow response times to their council enquiries because there are not enough desks for the staff to work from.
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