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Members of Highland Council this month approved a list of offices for review and potential rationalisation as a key part of the 15-year capital strategy plan.
Consultation will be undertaken on the properties identified as part of the review process.
The aim is to improve the estate by reducing the number of properties, and therefore maintenance costs, reduce carbon emissions, release revenue savings of some £0.231m and achieve market value for some buildings estimated around £1.7m.
It is also intended to improve community access to essential services and look for opportunities for shared services with partners, increasing collaboration and also efficiency, by maximising the use of existing buildings.
There are a number of reasons behind the changes, including the need for flexible work space, improving access to services, changing the way services are provided, an ageing estate and importantly, the need to reduce the council’s carbon footprint.
The initial focus will be on office accommodation, to increase capacity in nine offices which will lead to new ways of working, taking into account home and office working for office-based staff.
A total of 16 offices have been proposed for review.
The review will take into account options for future use or disposal, staff wellbeing, service delivery improvement, community benefit, carbon neutral strategy, and financial best value.
The council has 60 general fund offices and in addition to those 16 offices identified for review, 16 are to be retained; 15 have no data and 13 are misclassified – either already disposed of or not currently being used as office accommodation.
Approximately 21 properties have been classified as vacant or mothballed and investigations are taking place to confirm their status and speed up disposals wherever possible and appropriate.
Targeted condition surveys will provide an external view of the overall state of the current property portfolio.
Initially, surveys will prioritise depots and stores, key sites which will require targeted investment.
Once complete, all remaining sites which include a building will be surveyed within the next 18 months.
The condition surveys will be vital towards making long terms decisions over properties.
These include rationalising or repurposing and where appropriate further investment can be targeted in a sustainable way.
Given that a significant percentage of the council’s built estate continues to be heated via oil and gas – which accounted for 28 per cent of its total corporate carbon footprint in 2019/20 at a cost of £2m – the whole project is fundamental to gaining net zero requirements.
Leader of the Council Margaret Davidson added: ‘Rationalisation of our huge estate, getting rid of crumbling buildings and reducing the energy bills and repurposing some of the buildings we keep is essential to tackling climate change.
‘At the last full council meeting, we agreed that we must reduce, re-use, recycle and re-purpose before considering the creation of new assets.
‘Only where none of these options are deliverable or appropriate should the focus be on building new, and even then these new assets must be as carbon neutral as possible.
‘It must be recognised that this comes at a cost that has to be met up front, whilst the benefits can take many years to accrue.’
Highland Council headquarters In Inverness.
NO F19 council HQ
Extra Pic: Councillor Margaret Davidson, Leader of The Highland Council.