LYME Regis councillors have called for target dates to be set for completion of their office refurbishment project, after being told they are a “long way away” from seeing the plans.
After discussing the possibility of moving to new offices last year, town councillors agreed in December to focus their efforts on their existing office in Guildhall Cottage, Bridge Street, with a full refurbishment.
This would include taking back occupancy of the ground floor and serving notice on the Tourist Information Centre (TIC), previously run by West Dorset District Council and now taken over by the new Dorset Council.
Speaking at a recent Town Management & Highways Committee meeting, the Mayor of Lyme Regis, Councillor Brian Larcombe MBE, asked if the notice for the TIC had been drafted.
Deputy town clerk Mark Green said this was with the council’s solicitors and would be served by the required date of September 1.
Councillor Larcombe then asked when the council were likely to see plans for the refurbishment.
Mr Green replied: “I think we’re a long way away from that stage. There is so much more that we need to discuss with you before we can actually decide what those plans look like, not least of which is the future of the TIC.
“We cannot make any decisions until we have a clear view on whether any kind of tourist information service will be provided in future.”
The mayor responded: “We decided that we would claim the ground floor, to provide public access to the council offices without having to navigate the stairs.
“Our objective has been, and I think it still is hence serving the notice, reclaiming our ground floor. The TIC is not our question, it’s a question for Dorset Council.”
Committee chairman Councillor John Broom added: “I agree, but we did say when we do reclaim it that we would have some sort of information centre there as well. I have always presumed we would have small information centre.”
Councillor Larcombe suggested this could be sited in the Jubilee Pavilion on Marine Parade, rather than in Guildhall Cottage, an idea that has been discussed several times before.
Councillor Michaela Ellis commented: “The council agreed that we would serve notice but we were still waiting to hear whether the tourist information would be moved somewhere else. If it’s not going to be and Dorset Council are just going to completely close it down, we said that we may well be able to provide some sort of information service from our front desk.
“We did talk about maybe there being a chance we would move it down to the seafront, but we would have to look at costings and everything else.”
Councillor Larcombe said the ground floor arrangement at Guildhall Cottage would not be changed if it were used for a council office or TIC, so he questioned why this would delay the plans.
Councillor Jeff Scowen said: “We do need a target date on this. I would like to see it on a future agenda – what are we going to do with the TIC? Personally, I would love to see it in the Jubilee Pavilion but we have to vacate and be clear that we are going to have the ground floor for what is used upstairs at the moment.
“Forget the TIC for the moment. Let’s not muddy the waters, otherwise we will be looking at this for years. We need to do it and we need to know when it can be done.”
Councillor Ellis argued that the council could not set any target dates until they had all the relevant information. This would include plans for where the staff would work while the refurbishment was being carried out, as she felt they would be unable to stay in Guildhall Cottage.
Councillor Broom said they could still set target dates for several elements of the project.
Councillor Ellis replied: “This is not the only job that this council is doing that our officers have to deal with. They have other things that we’re chucking at them as well, so there has to be a bit of leniency about getting all these things together.”
Councillor Larcombe commented: “We are serving notice by September 1 so they can vacate by March, so it gives us time to make those offices what they need to be for the public, and a functional office because they’re just not working at the moment.
“The TIC is not a town council function, that’s a different decision that we will have to make and, in the first instance, it’s not our decision, it will be a Dorset Council decision. The TIC is a distraction which you can work out separately. It should not muddy the waters on getting things done.”