Reason for the decision:
Kent County Council’s (KCC’s) Strategic Headquarters requires significant investment to address building condition issues and deliver accommodation which is fit for purpose. This decision supports the Councils considerations in making best use of its resources and estate whilst remaining options are assessed.
An options appraisal was previously undertaken based on the pre-pandemic working styles during early 2020. This appraisal was then revisited, taking into account the changes in the way that KCC need to work post the COVID-19 pandemic and a new accommodation model was developed which allowed a number of new options to be considered.
The Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance, Corporate and Traded Services then took decision 21-00064 on 13 August 2021 to progress with the marketing of Blocks A, B and E of Sessions House for disposal and to develop an option for the refurbishment and modernisation of Blocks C and D predominately for civic uses and Invicta House as a staff hub.
In October 2022, given the Council’s significant financial challenges, the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member instructed officers to pause design work for the 2021 option and revisit the scope and present lower capital cost options. The £35m capital budget allocated to the project was reduced to £20m and endorsed by full Council in February 2023.
Four lower cost options were considered and developed in further detail with both the qualitative and financial assessment. Two options failed the assessment with two options progressing passing the evaluation process.
Given the significantly lower overall Net Present Value (NPV) associated with one option in comparison to the other, further market testing is required to establish the market viability of a disposal of the whole or part of Sessions House that would satisfy the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) covenants requirements. This remains a key project risk and is a determining factor which informs the next steps and the deliverability of either option.
Given that both options include the continued occupation by KCC of Invicta House, it is proposed to progress with the urgent maintenance works at Invicta House, including the required roof works. £3.4m will be allocated from the £20m approved capital budget in order to progress the design and completion of these works.
How the proposed decision supports the Interim Strategic Plan:
SHQ and its future direction is a key strand of the office strategy as part of the Future Assets programme of the Strategic Reset Programme and the delivery of the Medium-Term Financial Plan (MTFP) savings.
Decision type: Key
Reason Key: Expenditure or savings of more than £1m;
Decision status: Recommendations Approved
Division affected: (All Division);
Notice of proposed decision first published: 01/08/2023
Anticipated restriction: Part exempt -
Decision due: Not before 30th Aug 2023 by Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance, Corporate and Traded Services
Lead director: Rebecca Spore
Department: Strategic & Corporate Services
Contact: James Sanderson, Head of Property Operations Email: email@example.com.
A report was presented to the 26 July 2023 Policy and Resources Cabinet Committee.
Financial implications: The detailed financial analysis and assessment of the options is set out in the Final Business Case and has been undertaken by the Council’s Finance Team. Both options can be delivered within the capital allocation in the MTFP and deliver the MTFP savings. The NPV of one option is significantly better than the other over the 40-year NPV period and therefore required further exploration given the deliverability challenges associated with this option. The capital programme includes an allocation of a maximum capped budget of £20m, funded by prudential borrowing for the Strategic Office Estate. If the significantly lower cost option proves to be deliverable, the capital budget will be reduced accordingly. External advisors have provided assurance in the business case and have produced a Value for Money Assessment on the options which are being considered.
Legal implications: Investment is required in Sessions House to achieve minimum statutory compliance if it were to reopen. The proposed option will best meet the Council’s obligations to its staff in terms of accessibility, inclusion and its environmental objectives within budget constraints. Any decision will be progressed in line with the governance processes of the Council. External legal advice has been sought by the Office of General Council both from external legal advisors and Kings Counsel.
Equalities implications: An Equalities Impact assessment (EQIA) has been undertaken which indicates that the proposals have no adverse impact. It should be noted that Sessions House is one of the most challenging buildings in the estate when it comes to accessibility of users and this decision will enable a greater level of compliance. Data Protection Implications: A Data Protection impact assessment (DPIA) has also been completed.