By Andrew Topping, Local Democracy Reporter
The new £15.7m council office building at Top Wighay Farm near Linby remains on track and on budget despite concerns over rising inflation.
However, Councillor Ben Bradley MP (Con), the leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, has conceded there is “potential into the future” for this sum to rise given nationwide difficulties in funding infrastructure projects.
The major new building, on the Hucknall-Linby border, was given planning consent in July and will be the Conservative-led authority’s first low-carbon office.
It came as part of the council’s ‘Investing in Nottinghamshire’ programme – a wide-reaching assessment of the authority’s property portfolio to assess whether it is getting value for money from its offices.
Initially, the project was expected to cost £14.7m but rose by £1m last year due to issues with rising construction fees and inflation.
Now concerns have been raised that the scheme could increase further as councils and businesses across the country battle with inflation and soaring infrastructure fees.
Many council projects have been impacted by inflation including the recently-completed Gedling Access Road, planned new outdoor facilities at King’s Mill Reservoir and the new primary school in East Leake.
It led to Cllr Dave Shaw (Ash Ind), who represents Hucknall West, questioning whether the Top Wighay development could see its costs soar further.
Speaking in the full council meeting on Thursday (September 22), he asked: “Is Nottinghamshire County Council on track to complete work on time and within the original budget?”.
In response, Cllr Bradley confirmed a latest estimated costs document is being drawn up and will be reviewed by Cllr Keith Girling (Con), portfolio holder for economic development and asset management, at a later date.
However, he said the project remains “on track” and within the budgeted £15.7m.
He said: “The next stage of the process is to issue the latest estimated costs report for approval, though the project is currently on track and in line with its original budget.
“Of course, we can all see the potential into the future through the current economic market for challenges but, as it stands, everything is on track.
“We’re committed to ensuring we are delivering services from appropriate, modern buildings, and improving residents’ access to the county council and our services.”
In response, Cllr Shaw then asked what contingency plans the authority has in place to mitigate rising construction costs and soaring inflation.
“The original cost for this development was £14.7m and it’s already at £15.7m,” he said.
“England’s largest councils have recently warned they could make in-year reductions to services and cancel or delay repairs to local roads and infrastructure as spiralling costs add more than £1.5bn to the cost of councils.
“What contingency plans are we putting in place to fund any overspend of this white elephant?”
Responding, Cllr Bradley said the authority has already saved between £1.2-£1.3m by reducing its countywide building portfolio from 17 to nine.
And he said any cash spent on the Top Wighay building would be “worth that investment” in the long-term as the authority looks to save further on its building costs.
He said: “Even if you add in inflation and additional costs – which we intend to mitigate and have reserves and plans to do so – it’s worth that investment to save several millions in our revenue budget to continue providing services.
“That’s what the wider Investing in Nottinghamshire programme is about, we’ve already come down from 17 buildings to nine saving, I think, about £1.2-£1.3m per year.
“That means when we go into those very difficult conversations this autumn about the budget and how we tackle these inflationary pressures – which are significant – we’ve got more wiggle room.”
The Top Wighay building is part of a wider development on the land, next to the A611 Annesley Bypass, which also has approval for more than 800 homes.