Plans for a £4.9m revamp of Kendal Town Hall and the offices of South Lakeland District Council have passed their first hurdle.

Councillors on the Liberal Democrat cabinet voted unanimously in favour of the redevelopment project, which Conservative opposition leaders branded “utter madness”.

The project – expected to start in January 2020 and last 15 months – involves an overhaul of Kendal Town Hall and extensive works to South Lakeland House and the council chamber. It also involves the creation of a second business hub called Mintworks 2, and improved accommodation for staff, councillors, visitors and business users.

Cllr Jonathan Brook, cabinet member for innovation, said “doing nothing” was not an option and the project would deliver savings, utilise space, attract new businesses, generate income, secure the town hall and be cost-neutral.

“Doing nothing would involve significant costs. It would continue the inefficiencies we currently see and continue the under-utilisation of buildings,” he said.

“That is not a recipe for long-term success under the budgetary pressures this council faces. This will put us in a great position to keep services here rather than potentially losing them to Carlisle should some form of unitary arrangement ever come forward.

“It is a significant sum of money, but when you consider that just across the street in Kendal £1 million is being spent by a private sector company on a pub refurbishment then this helps put it into perspective.

Council leader Cllr Giles Archibald called it an “ambitious project for an ambitious council” and said it was “spending money to save money”.

Meanwhile, Cabinet member for finance Cllr Andrew Jarvis denied it was about the council’s leadership “spending £5 million on gleaming offices” for itself.

Cllr Ben Berry, the shadow opposition leader for the Conservatives, agreed the designs “looked amazing and exciting” but he called it “utter madness” to be spending such large sums when SLDC staff were being asked for voluntary redundancy.

Cllr Berry, the councillor for Windermere, said: “We are literally spending money on ourselves while disposing of assets in almost every other town we operate in and offering voluntary redundancy to our staff, some of which are in this room.”

The cabinet approved in principle the investment in South Lakeland House and Kendal Town Hall and recommended to Full Council that this is included in the capital programme, as well as authorising officers to progress to the next stage of technical design.
A further, final decision to commit to the capital costs required for the scheme will be taken later this year following a tender exercise.