The Future of Rochford District: The Asset Strategy, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) can be found below.

1. What is happening?

It is the Council’s responsibility to make the most of its buildings to ensure they continue to provide value for money and to maximise their potential.

This includes exploring opportunities for stimulating regeneration and economic growth for the benefit of the district as a whole.

To this end, the Council’s Asset Strategy 2018-2022 identified six key sites owned by the authority, and a professional analysis identified that these sites could be re-developed by 2023.

2. Why is this happening?

It makes sound financial sense for the Council to review the sites it owns to ensure they are put to best use, particularly as under-used sites cost the authority money to secure and maintain.

Rochford District Council’s Asset Strategy 2018-2022 sets out the Council’s priorities for the sites it owns. This includes the Council’s ambitions to drive greater benefits from its property interests, including an aspiration to spark regeneration in parts of the district.

Therefore, the Council engaged technical experts to undertake a robust analysis of six of its key sites, working closely with Councillors and Council Officers. This analysis led to the development of an ‘Outline Business Case’ with proposals that would be more cost-efficient than continuing to operate the existing sites as they are. This is due to their age and the need for significant investment to continue to maintain them in future.

3. Which sites form part of the proposals?

The Council’s Asset Strategy 2018-2028 identified the six key sites to be reviewed and the Outline Business Case looked at various options to see how they could best meet the Council’s objectives. The Outline Business Case identified potential for the six sites to be developed as follows:

  • Freight House, Rochford – the proposal is to refurbish and extend this heritage asset to give it a new lease of life. The current building will be transformed into a flexible space to be used both as a Civic chamber for Council meetings, and as a community space. The extension would be used as more efficient offices for Council staff and partner organisation
  • The public welcome area will be a modern digitally enabled space to allow customers to self-serve should they wish to do so and will have meeting rooms so confidential meetings with the public can take place.
  • The office space will be smaller than the current council office space at South Street and will be designed so staff can work efficiently using 21st Century technology
  • The office areas will be designed to 7-10 staff to workspace ratio 7-10.
  • Mill Arts Events Centre, Rayleigh – The proposal is to re-develop this site for residential use and a new community centre with flexible space for both Council and community uses.
  • The new community facility will be a standalone building spread over 2 floors, it will be facing onto the windmill and the sensory garden designed to complement these heritage features.
  • Upstairs will be modern meeting rooms and office spaces for use by the council and its partners to meet with members of the public – maintaining important service provision in Rayleigh.
  • Downstairs will be the publicly hireable space which can open out onto the windmill to make full use of the outside space and the magnificent backdrop of the windmill e.g. for weddings or fayres. This downstairs space can be configured into a single hall which can accommodate 170 people with built in storage and a bar/kitchen area – ideal for larger gatherings and performances.
  • The downstairs space can also be sub-divided to accommodate smaller groups simultaneously – perfect for exercise classes and community meetings. The size of the rooms has been determined by analysing the most popular uses of the existing rooms in the Mill Arts & Events Centre which were underutilised for their size.
  • It is not good value for money to simply convert the existing building, as we know for the majority of the time, very large spaces are simply not used frequently enough. Consequently, the new community facility will be smaller than the existing Mill Arts & Events Centre but this will ensure its future financial sustainability.
  • Although the new community facility will not be able to accommodate the same number of people as attended for the few very large events which have been held in the Mill Arts & Events Centre, the council will be working with existing and prospective users to find commercially viable ways to support those events e.g. by discounting hire charges to enable event organisers to spread their large audiences over a greater number of days.
  • The Council plans for energy efficient spaces within the building which will be independently controlled with super-insulated walls to minimize supplementary heat required.  Amongst other features we are seeking to include are a living wall which will add further ecological richness and provide an iconic and memorable external appearance. We also plan for environmental features such as automatic irrigation utilising grey water, which will ensure that the green roof and walls are low maintenance.
  • Civic Suite, Rayleigh – the proposal is to re-develop the whole of this site for commercial and residential use. Further details will be available once the planning process has started.
  • Numbers 3 – 15 South Street, Rochford  (current Council offices) the proposal is to re-develop for residential use
  • Numbers 19 and 57 South Street, Rochford – the proposal is to re-develop these sites for residential purposes

4. How will the programme save money?

  • The cost to the Council of maintaining just two sites, rather than the six currently held, will reduce future running costs through the provision of modern, energy efficient buildings which require less repairs and maintenance.
  • The new buildings will also help deliver wider value for money for the Council through the creation of flexible, future-proofed spaces which can be adapted to accommodate changes in future service provision.
  • Monies received by the Council from the proceeds of development are expected to fund a significant proportion of the cost of creating the new Council and community facilities.
  • At the Final Business Case stage it is anticipated the Council will need to provide net capital investment of around £1.5m to support the new build costs; this will be subject to finalisation once the pre-development work including site investigations are completed. This figure is larger than originally identified in the Outline Business Case (OBC), mainly because the proposals seek to create a significantly larger new community facility at the Mill Arts & Events Centre than first envisaged in the OBC. The capital investment costs will be offset by a reduction in the Council’s future annual running costs and repairs and maintenance bills, compared to a ‘Do Minimum’ scenario where the Council remains in its current buildings. It therefore makes good financial sense for the Council to invest in the programme.

5. How is it more cost-efficient to have new Council offices and Council chamber?

By reducing the total number of sites the Council has to maintain, cost savings can be achieved. The industry standard is 7 desks to 10 members of staff, which the Council is aspiring towards as staff move to mobile and flexible working practices.

A very small number of staff now work at the Civic Suite and the chamber facilities are used on average four times a month. The fixed, traditional ‘magistrates court’ style layout of the chamber does not lend itself to any other uses, whereas a new space could be more flexible for use by the wider community for meetings and events.

The current Council offices and Civic Suite are also ageing and will need significant repairs and maintenance in future to keep them operational. It will be more cost-effective over the long term to move to modern, flexible spaces which will be less expensive to maintain.

6. What other benefits are there to the programme?

The regeneration and commercial investment in key town centre sites, at both Rochford and Rayleigh, aims to boost confidence in both these locations which will encourage further investment and economic growth.

The programme will create new and improved flexible spaces which can be used not only for civic meetings and community purposes but also commercial hire – especially at the Mill Arts Events Centre site.

In addition, it will lead to improved efficiency in the delivery of Council business through locating the formal Chamber next to its offices. There will also be continued support for important local voluntary services which currently use the Civic Suite.

7. Why choose the Freight House site as the new location for Council offices and a Council chamber?

The analysis in the Outline Business Case showed that of the Council’s key sites, the Freight House was the most cost-effective solution. This site will provide a formal civic space which is modern and flexible – an elegant complement to its architectural heritage.

8. How does this affect the operation of the Freight House and Mill Arts Events Centre at present?

The Mill Arts and Events Centre will remain closed until its redevelopment as the cost to operate it as it is under the current climate is unsustainable.

The Freight House currently remains closed as this is one of the buildings proposed for early redevelopment as a new community and civic space within the Council’s Asset Delivery Programme.

Fusion Lifestyle and the council will work with existing users of these buildings to identify other alternative local facilities where possible.

9. What would happen to sites considered for disposal?

We will be working with our development partner to create proposals for each of the sites and these will be shared with the public as designs evolve and as part of the pre-planning process.

10. The Council has previously highlighted plans for number 19 South Street, Rochford, what stage are these now at?

The Council already has granted planning permission and listed building consent for residential development at No.19 South Street, Rochford, to provide 7 one-bedroom flats and 1 two bedroom flat, together with associated landscaping and car parking.  These plans will be taken forward by our development partner.

11. Will I get an opportunity to voice my views in relation to any future plans?

Any future development of Council-owned sites will be subject to formal consultation at the relevant stage of the planning process. The Council and gbpartnerships will keep its residents, stakeholders and partners updated on progress through the Voyage website where there will be a facility to feedback any comments and observations as part of the planning process.

12. Will any future development contribute to the District’s planned housing need?

The proposals do offer an opportunity for residential development, which would help meet the District’s planned housing need. This project supports Rochford District Council’s planning policies. These policies promote development within the existing residential areas and close to services, sustainable transport etc. to make the best use of available ‘brownfield’ (previously developed) land in the area.

13. Has Rochford District Council considered other properties for development?

The Council has a process in place for reviewing all of its assets and will continue to do so, in order to ensure it makes best use of these sites.

14. What are the next steps?

The Partnership website is now up and running www.voyage-partnership.co.uk and there will be an opportunity to track progress and ‘Have your Say’ about the plans as they become available. We are currently engaging with our stakeholders, including local residents, businesses and community groups, as the various schemes come forward and will be sharing more detailed plans and seeking feedback.

15. Where can I find more information?

The Outline Business Case for the programme is accessible at https://www.rochford.gov.uk/assetsobc

The Council’s Asset Strategy has already been made publicly available via the Council website at www.rochford.gov.uk/AssetStrategy