Southwark has three Town Hall buildings - one in Spa Road, Bermondsey; another on the Walworth Road and the third, Southwark Town Hall, on the Peckham Road. All of them require major capital investment in order to make them user-friendly public buildings. And when that capital of approximately £20 million has been found we need to find a real use and purpose for them, and a revenue stream for maintaining them.
Why is this important? Well, in short we are likely to be facing unprecedented cuts in funding from central government - £76 million over the next 4 years - and unless we look long and hard at everything that we are spending our money on we will be limiting our options for finding the savings which we need.
None of the buildings provide good modern office facilities for our council staff, and so the major capital investment cannot be avoided if we are to continue using them into the future. Nor can we just hand them over for public or community use without investment which is needed to make the buildings DDA compliant.
The argument for maintaining Spa Road has historically been to maintain a council 'presence' in the north of the borough. But with over 2000 council employees now working out of the council's offices at 160 Tooley Street I am not sure that this argument remains. There is certainly a "Council presence" in Bermondsey!
Walworth is a difficult building. The council chamber there is too small for Southwark's 63 member council, and it is not obvious what use we can give to it.
Southwark Town Hall houses our current Council Chamber, but I was interested (and alarmed) to hear that some of the feedback received by our Democracy Commission has already criticised the public gallery as being poor - preventing sight of many of the councillors participating in debate. If we are to meet the aspirations of opening up our local democracy to the public we need to make sure that at least they can witness our meetings! But the Town Hall represents an important presence in Camberwell, and would be sorely missed by the local community.
What is the answer to this financial and democratic conundrum? I'm not sure. But I think we are fast moving to a point where we can no longer ignore these issues or simply indulge a wish to maintain the three Town Halls just because they exist.
This is one of those issues and debates which we are bound to see more of in the next couple of years, as we are faced with increasingly difficult financial options. Let me know if you have any thoughts.