Closure of County Hall would cause Matlock to 'die a death'

Derbyshire County Council is looking at potential outcomes for the historic Matlock county hall buildings.

By Christina Massey
Monday, 9th May 2022, 1:38 pm
Updated Monday, 9th May 2022, 2:00 pm
County Hall

As the council explores options for the future of the historic County Hall, residents fear Matlock would ‘die a death’ if the authority was to vacate the building altogether.

Derbyshire County Council’s Cabinet has approved plans to spend £1.140m on the second phase of its Modern Ways of Working (MWOW) scheme, which includes a thorough assessment of all the possible future outcomes for the Grade II listed building, located on Bank Road.

The first phase of the scheme was implemented last year and involved relocating staff from its John Hadfield House and Chatsworth Hall offices to the former Smedley’s Hydro site.

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Around 80 per cent of staff from these buildings are now located in County Hall, however the sizeable building is still not full and is in need of maintenance.

A report into phase two of MWOW states the authority is ‘committed’ to County Hall and wants to make the ‘best possible use of it’, however admits: “It is not ideally suited in its current configuration as a major administrative base that supports the council’s ambition for how employees can embrace the flexible and hybrid working opportunities.” 

The future of the building was being debated even before Covid, however the introduction of home working as a result of the pandemic has meant fewer staff have been based there.

Derbyshire Dales district councillor Martin Burfoot, who is also a member of Matlock Civic Association, says any potential closure of the building would have ‘massive implications for the town’.

“In fact Matlock would die a death,” he said.

This is not the first time the future of the building has been hanging in the balance, when Smedley’s Hydro closed in the early 1950s, it was left empty until the county council decided to move in, having previously been based in Derby.

Coun Burfoot explained: “They moved to Matlock to be more central and also to try and revitalise a town that was dying on its feet.”

He said the arrival of the council headquarters ‘revolutionised’ Matlock, leading to new housing being built to accommodate workers and many businesses owing a large portion of their trade to council workers.

Allison Beesley, who alongside husband Mark owns The Nail Hut and The Newsroom bar, in Smedley Street, has seen the difference in custom as a result of the pandemic and home working.

She said: “[The Newsroom] That’s been affected to an extent during the day and used to open during the day and people from County Offices would come in, but we don’t do that any more.”

Mrs Beesley added: “I would be horrified if county just closed and I think it would be devastating to the town – it’s a huge building.

“Aesthetically, there’s a lot of architectural interest that needs to be preserved, there’s so much history attached to it.”

As the building is listed, the authority has a duty to maintain it whether it is occupied or not and has a planned preventative maintenance programme already in place.

She said she hopes the council can continue to use the building for its wider staff to make better use of it, but also suggested part of it could return to its original use as a spa.

“I think Matlock is becoming far more touristy now,” she said.

“People are coming to Matlock for the day or for the weekend.  

“Even up here we have a lot of tourists, but they really struggle to find accommodation.”

Mrs Beesley said she thought a hotel and spa facility could fill a gap in the market, while making use of the unique building.

“As a spa town, we haven’t got a spa,” she said.

Coun Burfoot explained that the council owns Chatsworth Hall and emptying it of staff opens the site up for the possible use of housing, if the post World War Two offices were demolished.

The council estimates phase two of MWOW will save £8.5m over the course of five years, broken down into £5m revenue savings, £3m Capital receipts and £0.5m in printing and stationery and interest savings.

Speaking in a Cabinet meeting yesterday (May 5), member for Corporate Services and Budget Simon Spencer said the council was assessing all 4,500 properties in its portfolio, taking into account factors such as their location, usage and condition.

He added: “This administration is committed to Matlock, the provision of County Hall. 

“This is a listed building, we will maintain it to the standards expected of a listed building.”

Councillor Spencer said MWOW did not mean things would ‘remain the same as they were in the past’, adding: “We have a flexible workforce who are willing to use technology and that should be used to the advantage of the customer and the people who work for us.”

He continued: “This is about changing the way services are delivered to be more efficient, more environmentally friendly and more geographically focused in the areas that we need them.”

Councillor Alex Dale commented: “The key thing in this paper is about efficiency and getting a better deal for our residents and taxpayers.”

He added that another key benefit of MWOW was a reduction on the authority’s carbon footprint.

The authority now plans to commission an external consultant team to run an options appraisal for the future of County Hall, creating an outline business case for each. 

This is expected to cost around £92,000 and be completed by the end of the year.

Of the £1.140m budget for phase two, £430k will be spent on staffing including a HR transformation officer on £34k and communications officer on £30k to handle the culture change, two programme managers on £43k each to deal with the property strategy and MWOW programme management, and a solicitor on £39k.

The remaining £710k is allocated for non staff costs including £207k on wider estate clearance, £50k on communications material and £178k on desktop equipment at headquarters and the wider estate.