By Grainne Cuffe, Local Democracy Reporter
Plans for a new office building in Peckham for Southwark council’s front line children and housing services are set to be scrapped.
The building in Asylum Road, known as Queen’s Road 4 (QR4) and controversial with some residents, was due to go to planning in June and, if approved, opened in 2022.
But the “far-reaching and unexpected impacts” of the Covid-19 pandemic has led Southwark to backtrack on the plans, which were authorised by cabinet in 2017.
Now the council is considering building temporary accommodation alongside office space, in light of the “fundamental shift in ways of working”.
“While ensuring we are not over-providing office space that may no longer be provided, we can also address some of the acute issues around the availability of temporary accommodation in the borough,” the cabinet member for finance and resources, Councillor Rebecca Lury, said in a foreword to the report, which will go before cabinet next week.
The council announced during the summer it would be “pausing” the plans, on which it has already spent more than £2 million.
Part of this was spent on demolishing a former council building on the site, which is just opposite Queen’s Road station.
Cllr Lury said: “Covid-19 has had far-reaching and unexpected impacts throughout our borough.
“We have seen a fundamental shift in ways of working, with our staff adapting at great pace to working from home, or in a more flexible way.
“At the same time, we have been able to accelerate many of our digital approaches to service delivery, such as in housing solutions, which has meant less need for individuals to be physically present in our offices.
“Before the pandemic, we had plans for Queen’s Road 4, that would see the site delivering significant new space for our staff, but as we have seen the impact of Covid-19 on our borough, we are now in a position to reconsider some of the previous options for the site that were previously deemed unviable based on what we expected to need the space for.”
The main reasons behind the decision are the uncertainty around needing office space in the wake of the pandemic, and the “considerable financial challenges the council anticipates in the coming months and years” – the project was expected to cost nearly £20 million.
Cllr Lury said that approving the plans to stop the QR4 programme “does not remove the need for us to provide safe, modern and welcoming spaces for our frontline staff”.
“However, it does provide us with the opportunity to look at other options for the development, which may have a wider beneficial impact in the long-term,” she said.
Other recommendations in the report include asking the cabinet to note the need find alternative space for council staff, and to approve the appointment of an architect to explore ideas for the site.
Pictured top: The proposed QR4 site in Asylum, Peckham
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