Brent Council’s plan to spend nearly £2 million on a town hall makeover has been blasted as “wrong and unjustified”.

A £1.96 million budget was agreed upon for the plan at a recent cabinet meeting on February 6.

The aim was to “improve the customer experience” at the Civic Centre building in Engineers Way, which cost £90m when it opened ten years ago.

But opposition Liberal Democrats have called the decision, at a time when residents face cuts to services, as “staggering”.

Works will include changing the main entrance, expanding the libraries, creating more private spaces, replacing the spiral staircase, and addressing acoustic issues. The Liberal Democrats tried to use a ‘call-in’ to ask the cabinet to look at the decision again but this was unsuccessful.

Leader of the Brent Liberal Democrats, Cllr Anton Georgiou, said: “As a service-based organisation, Brent Council should always be putting the needs of residents first and we do not believe that committing this large amount of money on ‘improving the customer experience’ at the Civic Centre is a priority for our residents.

“Most residents are concerned about crumbling and dangerous local roads and pavements, increased rubbish being dumped in our area, and most significantly the huge financial pressures faced due to the cost-of-living crisis, compounded by upcoming additional pressures like the increase in council tax and other charges.”

He added: “It is difficult to justify spending £1.96 million on the Civic Centre building when there are so many other areas the council should be prioritising at this time.”

Cllr Georgiou said it’s “incredible” that this financial investment is required for the redesign of a building that is “barely 10 years old”.

At the recent cabinet meeting, Cllr Eleanor Southwood, who is responsible for jobs, economy and citizen experience, said: “At the time it was a state-of-the-art building, and in many ways it still is. What we also know is that the look and feel of the building needs to evolve in line with what our customers need from it.”

This was echoed by the leader of the council, Cllr Muhammed Butt. He said: “After ten years, it’s good that we are taking stock, things have changed a lot in the last ten years. I think it’s quite right and appropriate that we continue to ensure that the building continues to function as a building that delivers for residents.” 

The existing staircase is described as having an “accessibility problem”, with people opting to use the lift instead. As part of the plan, integrated seating will be installed to encourage customers to the stairs and feature walls will be used to draw people up towards the library. There will also be more confidential spaces made available for private meetings and for people coming to the centre in distress.

Cllr Georgiou said the call-in was made so that proper scrutiny of the rationale behind the decision could take place. He claims not enough is being done to adapt the existing spaces available in the Civic Centre in order to meet the needs of the customers at a lesser cost. 

He said: “As councillors often in the Civic Centre, we recognise the waste of space in the mezzanine area. This space should be used more efficiently, however, we see no need for expansive works to improve it.

“There is a great deal of empty space on the ground floor and the first floor that could quite easily be turned into private spaces.”

The call-in did not receive the required number of five signatures from councillors of all political parties to be brought back before the cabinet.

A Brent Council spokesperson said: “Brent’s award-winning Civic Centre has served our residents and the council well in the 10 years it’s been open. As one of the greenest public buildings in the country, it uses 70 per cent less energy, saving money and protecting the environment, and it brings all of our services under one roof.

“However, since the pandemic, more residents access our services online and face-to-face support is being prioritised for residents with the most complex need. These redesign proposals are to improve the experience for residents, making the building more accessible and creating a better library space for all to enjoy.

“The council is evolving in other ways too. Office spaces will be rented out to other organisations, bringing in additional income that we can put back into protecting our frontline services. We are absolutely committed to ensuring the Civic Centre serves our residents but it also must move with the times too.”

Brent Conservative Group were approached for comment but did not respond in time for publication.

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