West Dunbartonshire should blush at award for offices not fit for purpose
The £15 million chambers – where you can’t see or hear what’s going on at the meetings.
By Bill Heaney
West Dunbartonshire Council’s new Dumbarton office, created within the old Burgh Hall in Church Street, has been named one of the best buildings in the country after success at the Scottish Property Awards.
The only problem with this is that the building is not fit for purpose.
Church Street, which opened to 500 staff at a cost of more than £15 million last May, was awarded Regeneration Project of the Year at the event on Thursday night.
But it has an auditorium in which you cannot hear properly and a public gallery from which you can neither see nor hear properly.
If anyone was given this type of seat in a theatre or a sports stadium they would want their money back.
The William Leiper-designed, Grade A listed façade, on the former Dumbarton Academy and County Police headquarters building, looks splendid, but the interior leaves much to be desired as a council chamber and for members of the public using the building.
West Dunbartonshire Council say “modern and efficient offices” have been created at the rear of the building, which backs on to Glasgow Road and Castle Street, but to some observers these look like boxes built from Lego.
The Council website says that the restoration and new-build was the result of a conservation project supported by Historic Environment Scotland “to ensure Dumbarton’s heritage was preserved”.
Old clichés have been trotted out by the Council about the building being “state-of-the-art”.
And that the building “has improved access to services for residents, brought economic benefits to businesses in the town and brought savings to the Council in the region of £400,000 per year”. Really?
The Council, accused of being over fond of surveys appeared not to have done one which reflects any increase in footfall in the High Street.
Nothing is mentioned about the fact that that parking in the town centre has become well-nigh impossible since the council offices opened.
The town centre has become more difficult to access, not easier.
And the Council have not revealed the final cost of the project which was last speculated at £15.4 million … and counting.
And they still do not answer questions about this from The Democrat.
Access to the premises is not welcoming and I have found myself having to be escorted to the public gallery to attend a meeting.
No provision has been made for a press bench or desk on which journalists can place committee papers and take notes.
Members of the public were locked out of an early meeting at Dumbarton and this happened again at the Council’s offices in Clydebank at the last monthly meeting.
In Clydebank, there is a separate stairway for councillors to access the chambers. The public are kept to a separate, steep stairway, where the access is awkward if not actually difficult.
There appears to be no provision at all for the public to use any kind of refreshment facility at Dumbarton and at the last full meeting in Clydebank the café was closed. Meetings can last up to five hours.
Members of the press – well The Democrat representative anyway – are not allowed to speak to officials at any time and access to councillors is restricted, even during lengthy breaks in meetings.
The Council are obviously not acquainted with the lobby system which allows the media to speak to, interview and even film members of the public bodies which they are reporting on.
This includes Westminster, the Scottish Parliament, whose own building at Holyrood was the subject of controversy when its opening was delayed and budget overspent by millions of pounds.
It goes without saying that City Councils, including Glasgow and Edinburgh, allow such access, but West Dunbartonshire Council appears to be a fully paid up member of the Secret Scotland Society.
The Burgh Hall in Church Street has also been shortlisted for two more awards, having been named as finalist in both the Community Benefit and Regeneration categories at the RICS awards, taking place in May.
Someone really should tell the organisers of these awards to back off.
The original Leiper building in Church Street, Dumbarton.
If the building wins in either of the two categories, it will be considered for the regional Project of the Year title, which would be a disgrace, since this is only awarded to a scheme that can demonstrate outstanding best practice and an exemplary commitment to adding value to its local area.
Councillor Iain McLaren, Convener for Infrastructure, Regeneration and Economic Development, said: “I am delighted to see that the hard work that went into the building is being recognised on a national level.
“The project to sympathetically restore this building while creating modern office space has not only played a part in protecting a piece of Dumbarton’s heritage, it has given a huge economic boost to the local area.”
Councillor Marie McNair, Vice Convener of Infrastructure, Regeneration and Economic Development, added: “Since we opened our doors to the community, the difference in the town centre has been clearly visible and the benefits of this extra town centre footfall are being felt by our traders and businesses.
“A big congratulation must go to the team involved in delivering this ambitious project.”