Hartlepool Council considers £175k U-turn to return register office just two years after it was axed

Could marriages return here?
Could marriages return here?

COUNCILLORS are considering performing a £175,000 U-turn which could see the town’s former register office be brought back into use just two years after it was axed in a so-called cost-cutting measure.

The register office in Raby Road was closed in 2011 as part of budget cuts, and the service was re-located within Hartlepool Civic Centre.

Two years on however, councillors are now discussing returning the service to its former base.

That option would cost taxpayers a total of £175,800 once building work, electrical installation and work to renew the roof is carried out.

The other option would be to re-house the registering of births and deaths as well as marriages to another location within the council’s headquarters, in Victoria Road, at a cost of £68,000.

The future of the register office still hangs in the balance after “too many unanswered questions” were raised in the report which was discussed at yesterday’s meeting of the Finance and Policy committee.

Members questioned the £175,000 estimate to move back to The Willows building, in Raby Road, and accused council officers of being biased towards the re-location in the civic centre, which is recommended in the report.

Councillor Chris Simmons said: “I am stunned by this report.

“I find it clearly biased towards us taking the Civic Centre option.

“A £58,000 estimate to renew the roof, which we didn’t know about in the first place, and a £33,000 estimate for additional staffing costs.

“We are only talking about changing the use of a building, I find it incredible that that total has been quoted.”

Dave Stubbs, the council’s chief executive, said he would prefer the register office to be based at the proposed new location on level one of the Civic Centre, and admitted the council could look to sell The Willows in the next two years.

He said: “What we have tried to do within this whole process is give members options. Within these options, we have opinions.

“We know it should be on level one.”

Officers recommend the council relocates the service within the Civic Centre as it is well-known and situated in the centre of town.

The report also says that option will be the most cost-effective use of staff resources.

But councillors described the current state of the planned location within the civic centre as “a disgrace” and are concerned the costs may rise unless it is moved again.

Coun Rob Cook said: “Access to level one in the Civic Centre is absolutely appalling, it’s a disgrace.

“We are expecting people to come on what is supposed to be one of the happiest days of your life and the access is horrible.

“All things like that need to be taken into account, to improve that access costs money and those costs need to be added to the estimate.”

Coun Marjorie James added: “I wouldn’t want to get married in that location in the Civic Centre, it looks like an out of use shower unit.

“The room itself could be made adequate, it’s the route getting there in the building which is the problem and improvements are going to cost.”

The committee chairman, Coun Christopher Akers-Belcher, said: “I don’t think we can make a decision today.

“I would welcome members of the committee to come together informally and discuss how to take this forward.

“We don’t want to be left again with a report with so many unanswered questions.”