Councillors demand rethink of £1.5m Dugdale revamp

Decision must be reconsidered after committee casts doubt over benefits of Dugdale Centre refurbishment, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Enfield Council plans for the revamped Dugdale Centre, designed by architects Dallas-Pierce-Quintero
How the outside of the Dugdale Centre is set to look when the revamp is complete

Councillors have called for more details on the planned £1.5million revamp of Dugdale Arts Centre amid concerns over the scheme’s value for money.

On Monday, Enfield Council’s overview and scrutiny committee voted to send a report on the refurbishment of the Enfield Town venue back to cabinet with a request for more information on the project’s finances.

Earlier this month, the council revealed plans for an overhaul of the centre set to create three new “presentation areas”, an expanded café-restaurant and a “more prominent home” for Enfield Museum. Some of the museum’s first-floor galleries are being moved to the ground floor to make way for offices for the council’s children’s services department.

Conservative councillors subsequently called in the decision to the scrutiny committee, listing a range of concerns with the cabinet report, including a lack of financial detail and apparant reduced space for the museum.

Presenting the call-in request, Tory councillor Glynis Vince said the Dugdale was a “much-loved facility” and any changes to the centre “must be done right”. She said the plans were supposed to enhance the museum, but the space being considered to house it was “significantly reduced”.

Cllr Vince also claimed the report failed to set out the financial projections and implications for the whole scheme. The Tories said there was no explanation about how the council would make up for a £191,000 loss of income in the business plan for catering service EnFood.

Responding to the presentation, deputy council leader Ian Barnes, who holds the culture strategy portfolio, said the refurbishment of the Dugdale was designed to make it “modern and forward looking”. He said that instead of being “upstairs in a corridor” or “downstairs, tucked around the corner”, the museum would be “front and centre” of the remodelled building.

Under questioning from councillors, Mark Bradbury, the council’s director of property and economy, admitted there would probably be less floor space for the museum when comparing like-for-like square footage, including “all of the corridor space between exhibits”.

But he added: “If you look at linear footage, and the amount of space there will be for exhibits, it will be greater.”

Responding to the financial concerns, Mark said the most cost-effective way to do the work was the agreed plan to use the contractor already working on the £6million scheme to redevelop the first and second floors of the building.

Council officers said in response to the call-in that there would be “no revenue shortfall”, as income from the first-floor conference centre included a “significant percentage of internal corporate recharges”, which was “not in fact income to the council”, and that savings had been made by deleting posts in the culture team.

Officers added that revenue projections for the Dugdale had already been published within the council’s budget and were “unchanged by the plans”.

But Conservative committee member Mike Rye said it would be “really helpful” if the “cultural enhancement” was “spelt out in terms of the investment in the changes” as he said it was debatable whether the change to the museum space was in fact an enhancement.

Cllr Rye proposed a motion to refer the report back to the council’s cabinet for members to consider before taking a final decision. He said the vision for the Dugdale Centre needed to be “properly articulated” to provide long-term financial projections.

The two Conservative committee members voted in favour of the motion, along with Community First’s Derek Levy, with the two Labour committee members who were present at the media voting against.