TWO councils have announced they are planning to build their new headquarters opposite Didcot train station – because of the coronavirus.

South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Council revealed their ambition late on Tuesday afternoon.

The two authorities have been forced to find a new office after their previous headquarters at Crowmarsh Gifford near Wallingford were burnt to the ground by arsonist Andrew Main on January 15, 2015.

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The councils had originally planned to build a new £17.8m office on that same site.

Herald Series:

A map of the Didcot Gateway site

Now they have said they have changed that plan because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Previously, the authorities were planning to build a new block similar in size to the old one – but now, because so many of their staff have been working from home because of lockdown, the councils have decided to make that a permanent part of the way they work, and so are planning to build a much smaller office – one that would fit on the relatively small town centre site in Didcot.

The building will be likely be even smaller than the temporary office the councils have been using at Milton Park.

The Lib Dem and Green Party-led councils said that the smaller building would save taxpayers money and help bolster their finances, which were already ailing before the coronavirus struck.

Herald Series:

There have been concerns the Prince of Wales pub may have to be knocked down to accommodate the Gateway site

Emily Smith, Liberal Democrat 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 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.”

The councils said they also wanted the building to be extra environmentally-friendly, but are still discussing exactly what it will look like.

The new office will also become part of the much-vaunted but controversial Didcot Gateway development of new shops, homes and offices opposite the railway station.

Herald Series:

A now outdated design of buildings at the Didcot Gateway site

South Oxfordshire District Council and Homes England, which jointly own the land, have been promoting this plan for years, and originally submitted a planning application for a £60m development of the site – including a 70-bedroom hotel, a gym, up to 300 homes and a new pub – to the district council’s own planning department in February 2016.
In June this year, the authorities unexpectedly withdrew that planning application saying that it was ‘outdated’.

An old version of the plans for the site was withdrawn earlier this year, and the scheme is now being renewed.

Sue Cooper, Lib Dem 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.”