Kingston Council (RBK) have announced their ambition for a sweeping 'regeneration' of the Guildhall complex where the borough's public administration currently takes place.

In a statement published yesterday (Wednesday, November 18), Council Leader Cllr Caroline Kerr said the project would be "about breathing new life in to the town but it’s also a response to COVID-19".

Though lacking detail at the moment, the plans floated by RBK's leadership included suggestions of converting council-run buildings into homes, office spaces and "possibly even a boutique hotel".

The initial response from community figures was mixed, with a number of campaigners and councillors in the borough expressing support for the repurposing of the Guildhall buildings 1 and 2 but dismay at the iconic Guildhall building itself being "sold off".

"We'd much rather examine our own costs than cut services for residents," Cllr said in a statement explaining the proposals.

"We can't afford to pour money into office space we won't need," she said, pointing out the three buildings that make up the Guildhall "complex" and saying they costed an "eye-watering" sum to run when many council workers were not attending the office at present and would not be expected to do so fulltime even after the pandemic has subsided.

Councils across the UK have seen deepening budget cuts from central government since 2010 and, despite limited government support at the outbreak of coronavirus in the UK, the pandemic has severely worsened the problem, as Croydon Council's declaration of "effective bankruptcy" recently highlighted.

Cllr Kerr said that the ideas, which are yet to be detailed, would transform the Guildhall building itself into a various tertiary sector facilities.

"On this site, we would like to see new homes, new workplaces, and possibly even a boutique hotel in this building itself," the RBK leader said, pointing to the iconic round Guildhall building in the heart of the town where council services are run in a video posted online.

"The fact is, we can't afford to look after this iconic building and protect it for future generations," she added.

"Instead we'd like to see it repurposed and conserved, so that people can enjoy this valuable asset for decades to come."

Among those criticising the proposals was Kingstonian campaigner James Giles, who described the move as an "outrageous attempt to sell off of the family silver."

"If they want things to cut, they should cut the millions that are being spent on temporary staff and senior staff," Giles suggested, addressing the financial crisis afflicting councils at the moment referenced by Cllr Kerr.

"We could rent out Guildhall buildings 1 and 2 to local business, maybe start-ups, to have a space. That would generate an income and there are many businesses who would love a town centre location. We could do some genuine good for the community while still keeping it for council use," he said.

An RBK spokesperson said that an outline of the proposals expected to contain more details would be put to the council's Response and Recovery Committee next Thursday (November 26).