SOME £200,000 has been set aside in Totnes Town Council’s budget to repair the historic annexe to the Civic Hall so that it can be put to more use as council offices.
Plans have been submitted to relocate staff to the Grade II Listed buildings off the High Street.
The idea was first officially mooted in 2018, and an increase in the number of council staff has accelerated this need, says the planning statement submitted to South Hams Council.
The authority now has one full time staff member and 11 part-time workers.
Moving the council offices from the Guildhall to the annexe will also heighten the council’s presence in the town and give staff more accessibility to the public, says the statement.
But not everyone is happy with the proposal.
The plans have received six objections, including one from gallery owner Angie Bowie who accused the council of a lack of transparency.
“I refer to the current planning application for amendments to the Civic Hall – largely concerned, it would seem, with the provision of smarter and better offices for the Totnes council itself,” Angie said.
“There is no doubt that the Civic Hall is in need of refurbishment; and I gather that the council itself has a duty of maintenance of that building. However, confusing that responsibility with provision of office space for the council itself seems to be clouding the principle of what the Civic Hall stands for.
“The proposals for these changes in the Civic Hall, seem to have no relevance at all to the community it serves. Loss of changing/green rooms in particular will cause permanent damage for community groups wanting to stage performances there.
“We may all recognise that the community use of the Civic Hall is nothing compared with years ago, when a lively and massively well supported programme of events went on there, but where is the responsibility of our town council to make these spaces accessible, safe and comfortable for community groups, so that the current use can be expanded, not reduced?
“I think we need to look at the history of the hall, and how it served our community over the years, as well as the number of councillors who hope to benefit from new offices. “What justifies an expense of £200,000 on offices, and might not this be a far more popular scheme if it improved our community facilities?
“Lastly this seems to have come about very quietly. In 2020, Totnes Town Council spent in the region of £4000 for a survey about road closure, but there has been no public consultation on this. I call for more transparency in this matter and I object to the current proposal.”
The town council has submitted plans to alter the annexe and ramp access to provide new office facilities, and applied for listed building consent for the changes.
The planning statement said the buildings are “currently vacant because of poor access and fire safety arrangements.”
Key areas of restoration would include installing and replacing windows, restoring the timber panelling, and repairing external walls and the roof.
Town council clerk, Catherine Marlton, said she would not have a breakdown of expected costs until the work had gone out to tender.
She said the council had budgeted some £200,000 for the work, which, if given the go-ahead, is expected to start in 2023.