Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council
Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council (the Council) had a portfolio of office buildings typical of other public sector organisations: some in poor condition, unsuitable locations, and indeed functionally obsolete. The buildings had a backlog of required maintenance, and did not allow efficient use of space, nor were they welcoming or accessible to customers. The Council therefore required a new office accommodation strategy.
The Council's accommodation strategy included the intention to provide a customer-facing presence in each of the three main towns in the Council's area, plus a new central office and depot now known as 'The Quays'. The strategy also included plans to close smaller outlying office buildings that were no longer fit for purpose. A small number of core buildings were to be retained and modernised in the future, using the principles of efficient accommodation utilisation and flexible working practices established at The Quays.
The strategy was well supported by the Council's management of property as a corporate asset. The proposed solution could not however be purely a property project, although it was property led. In order to deliver the step change needed for the Council's services, new IT/telephony infrastructure was also required, and a centralised document scanning system - accompanied by HR promoting a new culture of different more flexible ways to work.
The Quays, an open plan office block, was completed late in 2007 to BREEAM 'very good' standards of sustainability, and intended to house 500 staff. The building now provides only 10 individual offices, but has online-bookable meeting rooms together with informal local breakout/meeting areas. The breakout areas (and the café) all have WiFi which takes the pressure off the meeting rooms. Workstations are all standard and generic whilst the majority of the IT is based on thin client technology which reduce 'churn' costs. The Quays also includes conference facilities, and acts as the emergency control centre for both the Council and the City of Swansea nearby. The focus of the design was in ensuring that it provided a professional office environment rather than a traditional civic centre.
A key success factor in The Quays included the integrated working of staff from property, HR, and ICT within the project team. Other factors included support from staff in achieving the cultural shift required to implement new ways of working (including a clear desk policy), and above all, effective change management. Communication with staff throughout the project was maintained via methods such as focus groups, bulletins, briefings, and a building users' handbook. Initial staff scepticism has been largely turned to positive responses as staff are now appreciative of the improved office environment and comfortable with new ways of working. A staff survey undertaken as part of the post project evaluation indicated that 66 per cent of staff were satisfied or better with the process and the outcomes to date.
Three-quarters of the capital cost of The Quays was funded from prudential borrowing and the remaining quarter was funded largely from capital receipts from released buildings.
The nine major released buildings included three surrendered to the landlord with consequent revenue savings, three for disposal for redevelopment producing capital receipts, one building demolished for town centre regeneration, one building let and hence revenue producing, and one rented office suite retained for decant use during a phased renovation project. All released properties have thus been successfully moved on.
Some key performance indicators of the success of The Quays project include:
The project was a finalist in the Municipal Journal Achievement Awards 2009.
Lessons have been learned from the first stage, and as the next phase of the office accommodation strategy. For example, the Council is proposing to roll out the principles of The Quays project to the phased refurbishment of an existing rented office building nearby, where 300 staff will work from 250 workstations.
One of the key lessons learned is that the development and implementation of an accommodation strategy is much more than just a property project - it is a corporate wide project that needs the support and commitment across the whole organisation.
Contact Name: Simon Brennan
Contact Role: Strategic Property Manager
Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org