SITE VISIT | Conwy Council HQ with Muse
Conwy Council, Muse, and Bowmer & Kirkland have completed a flagship headquarters in Colwyn Bay in what is said to be the largest development of its type in North Wales. Place North West took a tour of the building with development manager Muse and the council to find out why it will be a “game-changer” for Conwy.
The four-storey building sits on a prominent position in Colwyn Bay, near Rydal School and commanding fine views of the sea and Llandudno and the Little Orme to the west.
Designed by architect AHR, the build features more than 100,000 sq ft of space for council functions as well as a multi-storey car park to the rear.
Planning permission was secured for the development in 2016 but according to Bleddyn Evans, Conwy Council’s project manager, it has been a much longer process to bring the scheme to fruition.
“Rewind to January 2013 and we had 18 different offices, going for the smallest ones like 41 Conwy Road to the larger ones like at the Civic Centre, an old listed building that has around 250 staff – that had a massive backlog of maintenance and operational issues,” he said.
“It was a disparate estate made up of old villas, houses, and even a Second World War hospital in Rhos-on-Sea, which again has about 250 staff working there.
“Since January 2013 it’s been a long journey to arrive at this point but it’s all about bringing as many staff into one site as possible.
The site was bought by the council from the Department for Works & Pensions, and formerly housed a 1970s office block. It was one of a number of options considered by the council in terms of location but ultimately, Colwyn Bay won out.
The procurement process was started in summer 2014 via OJEU; Muse bid along with 12 other companies, and this was followed by a three-stage process, with Muse eventually appointed as preferred development partner in the autumn of 2015.
The move will leave Conwy Council with three offices: the new facility at Colwyn Bay; a democratic centre in Conwy; and another housing the environment, roads, and facilities functions.
The scheme has been funded by M&G, which provided £39m of finance and has agreed a 40-year lease with the council. Main contractor Bowmer & Kirkland started on site in spring 2017, but according to Phil Marsden of Muse, both funder and contractor were brought on board early in the bidding process.
“M&G and B&K were brought on early in the process as part of the bid; during that year between 2014 to 2015 in the bidding process, we worked the design up to RIBA Stage Two on a spec basis,” he said.
“The brief from the council was really clear, detailed, and what you’ve ended up with is probably not far from how the project was first set out.”
“I don’t think Conwy has ever seen anything this big, let alone in a pretty congested and constrained site,” added Evans.
“There has been a significant amount of steelwork being delivered, road closures, demolition, but keeping everyone informed is the name of the game and we feel we’ve been very good with that.”
The building will now be home to around 750 staff, with some already moving and others set to move in by Christmas; the public-facing “one-stop-shop” on the ground floor will open on 19 December. The main feature is a full-height atrium allowing natural light to permeate throughout, and the workspace is designed to be as flexible as possible with around 450 desks available.
Services moving to the building include social and education, as well as the housing, planning, and licensing departments. Community services and corporate health & safety are also joining the team at the building, and a specialist Alarm Receiving Centre [ARC], only the second of its type and the first publicly-delivered facility in North Wales, is also included.
There is also a child-contact suite for social services on the ground floor which will be used for sensitive cases involved the police and others.
The council’s rent breaks down to around £14.85/sq ft for the grade A accommodation, including the car park, all furniture, and any specialist equipment included in the build.
“When we were looking, there wasn’t anything even near this calibre available in North Wales, let alone in Conwy,” said Evans.
“Whatever other office space was available only had room for around 100-odd staff at around £12/sq ft, basically delivered as shell and core, largely in the mid-90s.”
Although some other councils that have taken similar steps to bring all services under one roof have done so to make cost savings, for Conwy Council, this approach is slightly different.
“We have a portfolio of offices either on a freehold basis or ones that we are leasing; for example at Rhos-on-Sea we are leasing that at around £7 or £8/sq ft. So as a property or business function, no, it doesn’t exactly wash its own face; there is a gap in the region of around £700,000 per annum from the existing estates and functions to this,” said Evans.
“However, as we have only had short-term leases in some places, we had to get out – nobody in their right mind would take a long-term lease at some of them because they’re just not fit for purpose.
“There is an additional sum of money that was required but we always projected that because we had to act. Other councils that have done projects like this have had some jewels in the crown that they’ve been able to sell to make the whole thing fund itself but we didn’t have the luxury of that.”
The development is also deliberately designed to help the regeneration of Colwyn Bay, with the town seeing increasing appetite for food and beverage occupiers.
“Some of those local businesses have taken a punt because they knew this was happening,” said Evans, adding that strategic decision early on in the project not to include a café or a canteen in the designs to can encourage staff “to go out and spend locally”.
The building will be fully operational by next year, creating a new flagship headquarters for the council and the local community.
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