Simon Hughes MP has described Southwark Council's offices at 160 Tooley Street in withering terms as the authority presses ahead with plans to sell its three town halls and move more meetings and functions to the new building.
"160 Tooley Street has many advantages for back office functions for council officers and for consolidating officers in one building," said Simon Hughes MP in a paper urging the cabinet to reconsider its plans to sell the town halls.
"It is however a soulless building and has no appeal or history for civic, ceremonial or general democratic functions.
"Meeting in windowless, non-descript rooms on the ground floor of 160 Tooley Street in one corner of the borough seems to me the antithesis of a plan to engage the public where they live.
"The use of 160 Tooley Street for citizenship ceremonies or other civic ceremonies is a depressing thought and about the least uplifting venue which the council could think of."
The Lib Dem MP says that the Labour proposals are "short-sighted, unnecessary and unintelligent" and that the three town halls are "an important part of Southwark's history and an irreplaceable asset in the provision of appropriate services by the council".
The Tooley Street building was leased by the council when the Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition was in power, but at that stage the building was not expected to be used as a venue for 'democratic' functions such as publicly-accessible council committee meetings.
The council is still waiting to learn how much funding it will receive from central Government from next April. If it receives the national average reduction for local government, then it will have to save £80 million over the next four years. But the picture could be much worse for Southwark.
"The council faces serious financial challenges over the next four years both in terms of running the services that residents need and delivering the projects that are vital to the future of the borough," says Cllr Richard Livingstone, the cabinet member for resources.
"Bringing all three of the town hall buildings and the retained estate up to standard, together with Elephant & Castle acquisition costs, would cost in the region of £24.5 million.
"This would prevent the council spending capital on much-needed work elsewhere in the borough, such as improving our leisure centres or finding a solution to the lack of burial space in the borough.
"At the same time it also costs almost £2 million a year to run the buildings. They are old and inefficient.
"I know not everyone will welcome the plans – but I want to make it clear that we are not simply abandoning the buildings to developers. We have put in place plans to ensure that a role in the community for both Southwark Town Hall and Walworth Town Hall remains.
"We recognise that a civic presence and strong civic identity for the borough is important. But, in reality, the town halls have very limited capacity to achieve this, especially with respect to public access to democratic functions which is acknowledged as poor."
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