Conwy Council chief defends underused Carbuncle HQ building saying 'world has moved on' since Covid!

The council should sell both buildings and move into the rented Mochdre fiasco building and also work from home. 

This is the money they are wasting. And whilst they are at it they need to sell off the Carbuncle skip at Porth Eirias too!

Conwy’s new chief executive has defended the council’s decision to move staff to its state-of-the-art £58m flagship Colwyn Bay building – a decision taken years before his leadership began. Chief executive Rhun ap Gareth has also claimed the sale and fate of the council’s Bodlondeb HQ is still undecided, despite intense speculation during an ongoing review of Conwy’s estate.

Mr ap Gareth took over as chief executive from his predecessor Iwan Davies in October last year but has found himself at the helm during a difficult period for the authority. Conwy is in the process of setting its budget for the next financial year, and council report models predict a minimum 12.5% council tax increase unless the authority can find a budget shortfall of around £19m.

Residents in Conwy are also facing 10% funding cuts to all council services apart from education and social services, which both must make 5% savings. Conwy is also now conducting a review of its estate, and already some senior councilors are pushing for the sale of the council’s main Bodlondeb HQ.

Following the pandemic, Conwy’s work-from-home policy has meant Coed Pella building has remained empty at times, which has attracted public criticism because of the millions spent on it. Mr ap Gareth argues that nobody saw the pandemic coming and that Conwy couldn’t have known that its working culture would change to one where many staff now work from home.

“It is difficult to answer whether it (the change in working culture/pandemic) could have been foreseen or not because the world has moved on,” he said. “Technology wasn’t happening at that pace. If you asked me three years ago whether the councilors would be joining meetings virtually, I probably would have said there’s not a chance of that happening. But because of circumstances around COVID and technology has moved on quicker, it is more accessible. The situation we find now is much different to where it was three or four years ago.

“Conwy has always been quite innovative in the way that we work, so there was an element of home working before COVID. But I guess it is finding that balance (between working at home and the office), which we are working towards.”

Conwy chief executive Rhun ap Gareth.
Conwy chief executive Rhun ap Gareth.

Conwy began moving its staff back into its offices last summer in what it called its ‘green phase’ following the COVID pandemic. But a frequent criticism has been how empty Coed Pella has been, primarily due to Conwy’s work-from-home rules, allowing staff time away from the office.

This criticism is perhaps compounded by the authority being locked into a 40-year lease for Coed Pella, paying £58m or £1.45m a year in rent. In December a freedom of information request revealed that Coed Pella was just 25% full during August 2022. There was an average of just 173 staff per day working from the Colwyn Bay office, despite the building having a capacity of around 700 – as most staff chose to work from home.

Mr ap Gareth claimed that more staff were now using Coed Pella and said more officers would be working from the office in the future.

“From my point of view, going to Coed Pella regularly, as I do, you see people around,” he said. “We will probably see more of that moving forward, in the building and the town. There’s a correlation there. With the project we are undergoing now in terms of rationalizing and looking at what we need in terms of office space, Coed Pella is really important to that. COVID has had a significant effect on everything and delayed benefits on different things. I hope (it is) delayed rather than not there because obviously with more people coming back into the office, that is bound to have an effect on the town as well.”

(Well when the Carbuncle was built it did nothing for the town!) (So how will that change now?)



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