Disappointment as HQ review vetoed

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ABERDEENSHIRE’S governing parties have been accused of missing an opportunity, after voting to exclude Woodhill House from a review of the council’s estate.

The move to include Woodhill house in the review was voted down by the Lib-Dem/Conservative administration after SNP and Democratic Independent councillors sought to include the council’s HQ in the proposed review.

The authority’s headquarters are unique for being the only council HQ in Scotland located outside the local authority it serves. Supporters of the Woodhill House location argue that the HQ benefits from the location being politically neutral. It is also argued that the buildings are comparatively central for people travelling from all areas of Aberdeenshire, and that a shire-based HQ might suffer from the region’s comparatively poorer roads infrastructure. Moreover, with extensive council cuts in the pipeline, it is argued that no move to the shire would be advisable in the present climate.

Cllr Debra Storr, who voted to include Woodhill house in the estate review, said that the decision to move to the shire - though unlikely in the short term - should remain the local authority’s long term goal.

“The main argument deployed by the Lib Dems and Tories was that relocating the HQ from the City to the Shire would be too expensive and disruptive,” she told the Times. “I argued that they should therefore be prepared for an honest review of the situation. As part of the Council’s role is to support economic activity in the Shire, a proper appraisal including the benefits to the shire’s economy is only proper. The Council’s policy, until the city negotiated the sale of their 50% of Woodhill House to the shire ten years ago, was to move the HQ to the shire when circumstances allowed.

“The move may not be opportune - but that will change eventually. I believe that the Shire should seek to have its HQ in the Shire.”

Cllr Rob Merson agreed, saying: “Today’s decision is baffling. A review is simply that and if it concludes that there are good reasons to retain Woodhill House then I’m sure councillors would reflect on that.

“Council premises across Aberdeenshire are being looked at with a view to rationalisation and achieving best value for the taxpayer. It seems strange to exclude from that process the council’s headquarters and start the review with fixed ideas that certain buildings are sacrosanct.”

Cllr Isobel Davidson defended the decision, however, saying: “Considering the constrained economic times, we are really not in a position to consider building a new Headquarters. We have reduced the number of staff working in Woodhill House and now let areas to partner organisations such as the Police and we will continue to look for opportunities to do this.”

Cllr Gillian Owen agreed saying: “I was extremely pleased that Aberdeenshire Council voted in favour of continuing with the planned refurbishment works and to maintain Woodhill House as the council’s corporate headquarters.

“I was concerned that if this vote had gone against that policy, the Capital Plan would have been put in jeopardy, and the Capital Plan as it stands had been agreed by Council. The thought of telling the residents in Ellon that the Academy may not go ahead because of the re-drawing of the Capital Plan was something I did not want to see. I was, frankly, appalled that fellow Ellon Councillors Merson and Storr could even contemplate this prospect, Their cynical attempt to alter the Capital plan could have been disastrous for Ellon’s children and I feel they owe us all an explanation for their political grandstanding.”