The Deputy Head of Asset Management introduced the above mandate and explained that, as the previous mandate in this regard had been rather detailed, following a review this version had been developed and divided into considerations regarding the Council’s head office and civic suite in the light of the Council’s collaboration with Waverley Borough Council (WBC). The mandate summarised the latest position and focused on short, medium and long-term options.
The short-term actions undertaken to date consisted of the relocation of the Corporate Management Team and the Democratic Services Team from Old Millmead House (OMH) to New Millmead House (NMH) to release the 7,500 square feet of office space in OMH for leasing and generating up to £250,000 per annum in rent and service charge income. Although there was a preference to rent the office space to public sector bodies, this would be dependent upon demand. In general, grade A or refurbished offices were in demand and tenants enquiring with regard to securing office space were seeking to take up occupation without delay. The Council was currently in the process of agreeing a programme of works, featuring redecoration and recarpeting, in OMH on the advice of local commercial agents. In terms of the length of lease or licence agreements, 3 to 5 year terms with 12 month mutually rolling break clauses were recommended to protect the Council’s position and long term aspirations for the site.
The medium term five year plan intended to reduce the number of desks utilised in NMH and consider the future use of the surplus office space. WBC had confirmed that it would require de-camp space from April 2024 for a period of 18 to 24 months during the redevelopment of The Burys site in Godalming. Therefore, this Council would need to decide whether it was willing to hold surplus office space open for WBC for that length and period of time and give itself the opportunity to trial joint working in a shared head office or pursue leasing the space to third parties. The Executive/Management Team Liaison Group had discussed issuing WBC with a deadline by which it would need to make a commit to Millmead or not. WBC’s subsequent response had been that it would be in a position to commit to Millmead in the next 2 or 3 months and on the basis that this Council confirmed that it would hold the space open for WBC until April 2024 at the earliest.
The longer term position acknowledged that NMH was not in good condition and required significant capital investment to upgrade the fabric of the building and that the site was allocated in the Town Centre Masterplan for redevelopment leading to an assumption that the Council would vacate the building at some point in the future. In the event that this Council chose to co-locate at The Burys with WBC, that Council had advised that it would need Guildford’s detailed requirements in terms of desks, meeting rooms and Councillor facilities etc by the Autumn of 2022 to inform its office design which would be commencing imminently. The Liaison Group had agreed that if this Council was to relocate outside of the Borough in the long term, it would require the retention of a civic suite and some form of physical presence to serve residents in the town centre and these aspects would need to be factored into any relocation.
In summary, the Executive Advisory Board (EAB) was reminded that the short term leasing of OMH continued to be the focus to generate as much income as possible. Also, that the leading questions posed by the presentation sought views in respect of whether the Council should hold space within NMH until April 2024 to accommodate WBC’s de-camp bearing in mind the associated costs / loss of rental income, and whether the Council wished to co-locate with WBC at The Burys in the long term. Any comments made in these areas would assist in informing subsequent decisions being pursued by the Council.
The following questions, comments and discussion arose from consideration of the mandate:
(a) The Council was currently exploring a programme of works based on market demand to cater for the needs of companies, including small businesses or those wishing to expand or downsize during their potential tenure at Millmead.
(b) Although the Council wished to offer some hot desking facilities to potential tenants, it did not currently have the necessary dedicated management or ICT systems in place to deliver these. Such services were successfully provided by companies in the town centre. However, one councillor was of the view that there was considerable demand for hot desking facilities locally, particularly from the gaming industry, and that the Council should take advantage of this opportunity to attract revenue by offering a managed provision encouraging companies to remain in Guildford.
(c) Mandates concerning the better use of the Council’s commercial and office buildings were welcomed as a means to generate income.
(d) Owing to the Shaping Guildford’s Future programme, it would not be practical to lease OMH in its entirety to a service office provider to fulfil the central building management role as such a position would require a longer term commitment to enable a provider to secure a return on its investment in the building. Therefore, the Council would undertake the service office provider role and sought to refurbish all vacant offices suites, which numbered approximately 27, on a 10 suite rolling programme. This would include the provision of a central network system which tenants could access.
(e) Having selected office premises, tenants sought to take up occupation and become operational within 48 to 72 hours. To facilitate this wish, a brief simple lease document was prepared with standard non-negotiable terms. The Council would seek to agree contracts of at least 12 to 24 months as shorter contracts and the resulting rapid succession of tenants would be too resource intensive to manage.
(f) In terms of tenants and the security of Council information, the authority would look to lease office accommodation to public sector partners, subject to demand. In the absence of demand from the public sector, offices would need to be let to third parties in the private sector. However, the latter position was not considered to be a security threat as lessees would be located in a separate building from the Council and a secure door entry access system was in use. In the event that parts of NMH were leased to third parties, security could become an issue and physical partitioning of the open circulation space in the building may be required.
(g) With regard to agile working, this was applicable to back of house staff only and there was a full time permanent presence of front of house staff to assist the public. The Liaison Group had indicated that, in the event of the Council relocating to Godalming as part of the collaboration with WBC, it would need to retain a town centre presence in Guildford to support local residents who were unable to access the on-line portal.
(h) Regarding the provision of a community hub in the Borough, possibly involving free office space, the Library or the Tourist Information Centre, Surrey County Council was exploring the refurbishment of under utilised space at Guildford Library for this purpose and had suggested pursuing the initiative in collaboration with this Council. Although the County Council currently possessed a community provision at Slyfield Industrial Estate, it was considering alternative options for the site as it was not felt to be appropriate for this purpose and use of another site such as the Library was favoured as a more suitable premises with other amenities nearby.
(i) Although the appropriateness of the operation of this Council from Godalming, which was outside the Borough of Guildford, could be questioned, it was felt that a suitable and accessible presence of a customer services team in Guildford to serve residents would be acceptable.