We strongly agree with all four statements. In doing so we strongly reject the Conservative Administration’s likely spin on the “best use of its lands and building”. We firmly believe that the best use of Kingswood Civic Centre is to remain the provider of Council jobs and services.
Questions 2 & 3
As councillors we visit Kingswood Civic Centre on a very regular basis indeed.
When the cross-Party Council Savings Plan that included accommodation savings was agreed a few years ago, this was based on the future co-location of services in Council buildings. In the case of Kingswood, the clear assumption was for the library (and possibly the public conveniences) to share the Civic Centre with the current users.
We therefore tend to agree with Option D but without the corollary of shipping hundreds of Council jobs out of Kingswood, which was not part of the equation until the Conservatives assumed majority control.
We strongly oppose options A-C for Kingswood which involve the disposal of the Civic Centre.
Questions 5 & 6
Labour Group believes that Kingswood Civic Centre is an important community asset that provides local jobs, training and a sense of civic pride.
Our councillors voted against the decision to consolidate and rationalise office accommodation at Badminton Road, which other members backed despite receiving a 1,600 name petition opposing this move.
None of the five options in the consultation document fully reflects the previous cross-Party assumption about future accommodation in Kingswood. It is therefore unarguable that the Conservative Administration that took office in 2015 has made a unilateral decision to abandon the existing cross-Party way forward.
Labour Group offers seven separate reasons why the Conservative Administration’s current plans to move staff and services away from Kingswood Civic Centre should be abandoned.
1. Withdrawing from Kingswood Civic Centre would make it more difficult for local people to access services such as the One Stop Shop and Register Office
The Council leadership has promised to retain a One Stop Shop in Kingswood. However there are no details for the delivery of this and the options are not great. One is to move over to the library. Another is to find a site nearer the town centre but that could remove parking spaces. The Conservative Administration should not close the building with such important questions unanswered.
2. Withdrawing from Kingswood Civic Centre would make it more difficult for residents to attend Council and Committee meetings that are taking decisions on their behalf
Kingswood is the only Council building with a Council Chamber and public committee rooms. They are well used, and for contentious issues (such as Cossham Hospital facilities) are filled by members of the public. The venue is easy to access.
The Badminton Road building is a poor alternative for the general public. There is a tiny amount of public parking space and the bus service from most parts of South Gloucestershire is poor or non-existent. The likely outcome is that fewer members of the public will come along and address councillors, to the detriment of participative democracy in our district.
As with the One Stop Shop, there is no clarity as to where public meetings would be held if Kingswood closes. We strongly oppose the ridiculous suggestion that meetings could move around the district like a travelling circus. A Principal Authority with any sense of worth requires its own fixed council chamber.
3. Withdrawing from Kingswood Civic Centre would remove jobs for local people from the area with the highest level of unemployment in South Gloucestershire
The Conservative Administration seems completely unbothered that it will be shipping hundreds of jobs out of Kingswood and the effect that this will have. Local people want local jobs.
Instead Council Leaders refer to the building as “surplus office space” – a description we reject entirely. It is shocking and shameful that their decision is likely to be founded on this falsehood.
4. Withdrawing from Kingswood Civic Centre would increase commuting, congestion and traffic pollution
Many staff who work at Kingswood, especially those in the lower-paid jobs, are local people who appreciate having a job that is close to home. They would now be forced to travel to Badminton Road. With the awful bus service, this inevitably means more car journeys, more congestion and more pollution. Staff have told us that they view such a forced move as a pay cut in effect.
5. Withdrawing from Kingswood Civic Centre would demonstrate a waste of public money as £6 million was recently spent refurbishing the building
The Conservative Administration would open the Council up to ridicule if it moves out of the building so soon after such a major, costly and recent refit. Residents will rightly question the Council’s fitness to manage public funds. Admitting to such a lack of foresight should be an embarrassment, but the Conservative Administration seems not to care.
6. Withdrawing from Kingswood Civic Centre would reduce visits to Kingswood and trade in its town centre
The town centre will inevitably suffer, both from the loss of hundreds of staff who spend their money in local shops, and from fewer members of the public, especially if the Council is also trying to get people to do more and more business online. Kingswood people still like to deal with real people.
7. Withdrawing from Kingswood Civic Centre would further demonstrate that Kingswood is no longer seen as important, following the loss of Soundwell College and the promise of a Minor Injury Unit at Cossham Hospital
Kingswood is getting a raw deal. This decision would signal that the Conservative Administration does not consider Kingswood important enough for the Council to retain a flagship presence there. An office shop somewhere is no alternative for a Civic Centre: Kingswood is being downgraded in status.
The people of Kingswood value their sense of identity separate from their larger neighbour in Bristol. To remove the Civic Centre from Kingswood would erode the unique sense of belonging to South Gloucestershire which we believe would be to the detriment of our current authority. Residents expect the Council to listen to – and represent – the strong views of the local community.
We do not support the relocation of civic functions or Council jobs to Yate for the reasons already outlined in previous answers. We restate our view that it would be demeaning for a Principal Authority not to have its own fixed civic suite and chamber.
Labour Group believes that Kingswood Civic Centre is an important community asset that should continue to provide local jobs, training and a sense of civic pride long into the future.