The cranes are down, the windows are washed and council staff are preparing to move back in to Merrion House after an 18 month refurbishment to the 10 storey office block was completed at the end of January.
The decision to improve and extend Merrion House was prompted by negotiations with the building’s owner Town Centre Securities (TCS) PLC, extending the lease while transferring shared ownership to the council.
Merrion House has been home to council staff since 1973 and is part of a plan to reduce the number of council buildings in the city centre from 17 to just four and bring all public-facing services under one roof.
Councillor Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council, said: “We are gradually redesigning our buildings and the way we work to meet the needs of our customers and enable joint working with our partners.
“This city centre office consolidation will create £30m efficiencies over 25 years and also generate an estimated £20m-plus from the buildings we no longer need.”
Now 2,196 staff, including some from West Yorkshire Police and Leeds Community Health Care, will move in from the middle of February until the end of May.
This will bring the city centre office workforce to 3,352 people working from 1,901 work stations across Merrion House, Leeds Civic Hall, St George House and Enterprise House. Reductions to numbers of desks have been achieved through introducing policies involving hot-desking and flexible location working.
Councillor Richard Lewis, Leeds City Council’s executive member for regeneration, transport and planning, said: “Complementing our people plan and enhancing the area around Merrion House, this city centre refurbishment and remodelling programme has allowed us to address the dual challenges of improving services while reducing the number of city centre buildings.”
Designed by BDP architects and delivered by main contractor, BAM Construction, Merrion House now provides approximately 170,000 square feet of office space including an increase of 50,000 sq ft thanks to the new six storey extension. It features an integrated customer service hub on the ground floor which incorporates enquiry positions, meeting rooms, self-service points and waiting areas. This one stop service area combines public access to all main council services with additional partner services.
It is estimated that 1,000 people per day will visit the hub so it has been designed to be an effective and inclusive environment to work in and a modern and fitting place for customers to come and talk with staff. At the same time the council is continuing its programme of setting up local community hubs in various locations around Leeds and increasing its online access to services and information.
The customer hub will be open for business by the end of May 2018, replacing city centre public receptions at Great George Street, which will close in May, and at the Leonardo Building, due to close in March.
Edward Ziff, chairman and chief executive of TCS, said: “The redevelopment of Merrion House and public-private partnership approach between Leeds City Council and Town Centre Securities have been hugely successful and we are proud to be assisting the council as it evolves its services with significant operational cost savings.
“Merrion House forms a key part of the continued multi-million pound investment and regeneration of Merrion Centre and the wider Arena Quarter.”
Merrion House: The past few years have seen substantial rationalisation and investment in local authority estates as councils seek to operate both frontline and back of house services in a more cost-efficient manner. The trend has led many local authorities to put in place property strategies involving new buildings, refurbishment and remodelling programmes and asset optimisation initiatives to address the dual challenges of improving services while reducing costs.
In Leeds, this has led to a creative and original solution for Merrion House, a council office building that the local authority has occupied as a tenant since it was constructed for them in 1973. It involves transforming both the capacity and the ownership of the building as part of a major extension and refurbishment scheme. This has not only enabled the council to move more jobs across to the city centre site, but has also played a pivotal role in delivering the local authority’s wider property strategy.
Completion of city centre refurbishments will mean the council can move out of and release Belgrave House, Evolution House, the Leonardo building, 2 Great George Street, Thoresby House and Westgate.
Community Hubs: Community hubs are a new and innovative way of working. Across the country some councils have closed face to face services such as libraries and one stop centres. However the Leeds approach is different and is focused around community hubs, which place integrated, accessible services where they are most needed: at the heart of local communities.
This means people should increasingly be able to access help where they live. If they do need to come into the city centre they will find all council services under one roof. More information about community hubs can be found here community hubs on the Leeds City Council website.