Didcot will be the home of the new offices for South Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse District Councils in a move that will help to secure a more sustainable future for the councils, both economically and environmentally.
The district councils will move into a new building that’s proposed for the Didcot Gateway site opposite Didcot Parkway Station. The site is close to the centre of the town that sits on the border between the districts.
The councils need new headquarters following a five-year story that began in January 2015 when their shared headquarters in Crowmarsh Gifford were destroyed in an arson attack. After spending a few years in temporary offices at Milton Park, South Oxfordshire District Council revealed early designs for new headquarters at Crowmarsh in February this year. Shortly after unveiling these plans, the country went into lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw nearly all of the councils’ staff move to working at home full time.
Like many organisations around the world, the move to home working demonstrated to the councils that they could work successfully with most of their staff working in a more flexible and remote manner. However, the councils have learned over the past six months that there is still a need to have some office space for certain activities and for staff who are unable to work from home for practical, personal or well-being reasons. The councils have therefore reviewed their office requirements and concluded they need smaller offices than they previously had planned for.
With a new understanding of their longer-term needs, the councils decided to explore their options to find the most viable and deliverable solution. This involved having a look at a range of alternative sites, some of which had previously been ruled out for being too small, to see if they would provide the best value for council taxpayers.
The Didcot Gateway site was one of these locations – Homes England recently ran public engagement on proposals for a brand-new regeneration development that would bring new homes, offices and cafes to a brownfield site directly opposite major local and national public transport infrastructure at the heart of the two districts.
The proposals already included an office building on a part of the site that is owned by South Oxfordshire and both councils’ Cabinets recently agreed it made financial sense to move to offices that are already part of a masterplan and on land owned by one of the councils.
As the plans are very much in the initial stages of development, it’s too early to give a firm date for the new offices, but the councils are working towards a date in Spring 2023.
Cllr Sue Cooper, Leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, said: “Didcot Gateway is a sensible location for our new headquarters from a financial and practical point of view. It will make a significant difference to us financially moving from large rented accommodation to a modern, well designed office that meets our reduced requirements and becomes a valuable asset for the future. As the site is centrally placed between the two districts, and close to public transport links, it will help us meet our targets for tackling the climate emergency.
“We are sad not to be returning to Crowmarsh, which was home to our council for so long, but we will work on a good future for that site. We look forward to creating a more efficient, cost-effective and carbon neutral council for the future.”
Cllr Emily Smith, Leader of the Vale of White Horse District Council, said: “Moving from temporary offices into a smaller, cost-effective and efficient building will help us get our finances under control during a difficult time for local authorities. We’ve been on Milton Park for a number of years, so this new site is just a short distance down the road and much more accessible for residents and staff, with fantastic public transport links.
“Now that we’ve agreed the site for the new offices, we look forward to working with our South Oxfordshire colleagues to develop the plans for how they will look and feel. The design and build will be very much focused towards achieving our aspirations for becoming carbon neutral by 2030 and through being as environmentally friendly as possible contribute to our wider plans for tackling the climate emergency.”
Determining the future of the Crowmarsh Gifford site together with the local community remains a priority for South Oxfordshire District Council.