Whitchurch Civic Centre complex set to be demolished and redeveloped due to RAAC
Shropshire Council’s Cabinet will next week – Wednesday 17 January 2024 – consider a recommendation to permanently close Whitchurch Civic Centre after specialist engineers found that RAAC (reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete) exists across the majority of the Civic Centre complex, and that it has major structural issues.
Following the engineers’ recommendation (in November 2023) that it is not safe to reopen the building, future options for the site have been drawn up, with Cabinet now asked to make a final decision.
The report to Cabinet recommends the closure of Whitchurch Civic Centre – as the cost of repairs would be significant and not viable for the council – and the redevelopment of the site. It also recommends that work be carried out to find alternative provision for the library and community services in the town centre, and that Shropshire Council works with Whitchurch Town Council to find them a new home.
It’s estimated that the demolition and redevelopment of the site to bring forward a mixed-use development scheme incorporating community uses and residential would cost £1.25m. No decision has been taken about what would replace the complex.
In comparison, work to demolish and rebuild the complex like-for-like would cost between £6.035m and £7.635m, and work to replace the roof and other essential items would cost £2.36m to £2.45m
The demolition and redevelopment option is considered to be the most appropriate option as it provides the opportunity to deliver community services within the town centre as part of a mixed-use scheme.
Subject to the approval of this recommendation work to develop a business case will be carried out and the local community would be consulted as part of this work.
Dean Carroll, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member for housing and assets, said:
“The inspectors’ findings late last year confirmed our worst fears about the Civic Centre complex. We’ve now carefully considered the best options for the site, with the demolition and redevelopment considered the best and most cost-effective option.
“If this recommendation is agreed I can again give local people my reassurance that we will continue to provide library services in the town. We know how important these services are for local people and I look forward to them opening in a new interim home before moving to a long-term location.
“We will also work closely with Whitchurch Town Council to help them identify a new civic venue – and to compile a directory of local venues to help any displaced community groups to find suitable alternative space.”
Mike McDonald, Proper Officer with Whitchurch Town Council, and Whitchurch Mayor Councillor Andy Hall, said::
“Sadly, we must recognise the results of the surveys, other investigations, and expert opinion regarding Whitchurch Civic Centre, from a health and safety perspective… and it would be fair to say that this was not an ‘unexpected’ development.
“As you would assume, the town council has been considering its own options from hereon in and will be able to announce our plans shortly, once finalised. Naturally, we have worked on many different scenarios as this situation has developed and we have ensured that any prospective solution includes opportunities for many of the community groups latterly using the Civic Centre as a base for their activities, alongside others partners we were in active discussions with.
“There are many decisions still to be made, which will become more apparent once further detail is confirmed by Shropshire Council, who are the owners of the Civic Centre complex and our corporate landlords. In the meantime, however, primary focus must be the urgent opportunity to revisit and ‘reinvent’ the site, recognising the Civic Centre’s critical role at the heart of Whitchurch in terms of its economic, cultural, and social significance.
“We urge Shropshire Council to undertake thorough needs analyses and consult with our communities to inform a way forward as part of the ‘bigger picture’ in terms of the development of Whitchurch as a growing town – alongside the essential infrastructure needed for it to continue to thrive. It is also important that the voice of our young people is captured in this activity. We also welcome Shropshire Council’s commitment to maintaining other community-focussed activities within the town, for example the library and registration service.
“Naturally, we remain thoroughly committed to working alongside Shropshire Council to ensure that this happens in a relevant, timely and appropriate manner and have been given an assurance that a momentum will be maintained throughout. In any case, from our perspective, Whitchurch Town Council will continue to strive to deliver a service that meets the needs of our community as far as we are able to.
“Once again, we also recognise the resilience of our staff and councillor teams, who have worked in extremely difficult circumstances, much of which has been out of our direct control since the Civic Centre was forced to close last September. We are also very grateful to our whole community for the support we have received during this period.”
Funding to support the redevelopment would need to be supported either by capital receipts or borrowing, and external funding would also be pursued.
Subject to Cabinet approval further work will be undertaken to develop a business case for the demolition and redevelopment of the Civic Centre complex.
In the short-term Whitchurch Town Council would be able to continue their limited use of the sports hall.
Most of the Civic Centre has been closed to the public since September 2023 following an initial assessment which identified RAAC roof beams in parts of the building.
The building’s problems are further complicated by the widespread existence of asbestos which although currently protected would be disturbed by any works.