New community hub proposed for Malvern

A new community hub could be built as part of plans to transform the way Malvern Hills District Council serves the public and save hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Councillors on the Executive Committee will consider proposals at a meeting on Tuesday, 20 September to replace the current Council Chamber on Avenue Road with a modern community building.

It will include a larger 105 seat multi-use facility connected to the Council House and two large meeting rooms, which could be hired by businesses and community groups during the week and at weekends for events, meetings and exhibitions.

There will be a new reception area, meaning the Council House will be open to the public again for the first time in a number of years, allowing staff to provide a better standard of customer service.

The future of Malvern Tourist Information Centre will also be secured by relocating to the site and bringing it closer to Great Malvern Railway Station and Priory Road car parks, which are well used by visitors. The visitthemalverns website is also being revamped to offer a greater range of information and services to tourists from the convenience of their smartphone or other device.

If approved, and permission and other consent is granted, then work on the new building would begin in February 2017 and take 18 months to complete.

The council needs to act as the current council chamber is nearing the end of its life, is not fit for purpose and will cost £180,000 in essential maintenance costs alone over the next five years. The Tourist Information Centre, currently based on Church Street, costs £100,000 a year to run which is unaffordable given the council needs to save £1.8million a year by 2018 due to government funding cuts. There will also need to be £25,000 spent on maintenance work on the building over the next five years.

The plan is part of a wider project which will also see all council staff operate out of the Council House in Avenue Road, instead of being split between that building and Brunel House in nearby Portland Road.

Work to redesign the inside of the Council House will start in October 2016 and take four months to finish. Historic England has already backed the changes.

It will cost £450,000 in total but will allow Brunel House to be leased or sold which will generate income as well as allowing staff to operate more efficiently. Even if the council does nothing, it will still have to spend £250,000 on refurbishment work to the Council House including dealing with damp.

The new community building will cost £950,000, bringing the combined cost of the project to £1.4million. However, this will release savings of £193,000 a year for the council, more than the £100,000 it was estimated could be saved from redesigning the use of council buildings in the council’s five year business plan.

If the council did nothing, then it would still have to spend a combined £480,000 on maintenance work on the council chamber, Council House, Brunel House and Tourist Information Centre.

Cllr Phil Grove, Leader of Malvern Hills District Council, said: “These changes, if approved, will help us to meet the significant financial challenge we face without impacting on the front line services residents rely on, which we are determined to protect.

“The project will also deliver us a new modern, purpose built building which will prove a valuable asset to the community.

“On top of that it will ensure we combine the best possible online offer through our revamped visitthemalverns website, while continuing the excellent service provided by the TIC but at a reduced cost to the Council Tax payer.”

If given the go-ahead by the Executive Committee, the proposal will then go to Full Council on Tuesday, 27 September for final approval.