Revealed: The Liberal Democrats’ new HQ

Great George Street SW1

The Liberal Democrats plan to relocate this summer to a new headquarters in Westminster, close to Whitehall and the Houses of Parliament.

The party has chosen newly-refurbished offices on the second floor at 8-10 Great George Street, opposite the Treasury.

Party staff can look forward to a modern, open-plan office on one floor, in contrast to the current Cowley Street offices – which are arranged over five floors, in an array of dolls’-house type compartments.

At around 7000 square feet, the floor area is similar to that of 4, Cowley Street. The final layout is still being planned, but will include a set of meeting rooms for staff, committees, Parliamentary colleagues and their researchers.

Cowley Street will be fondly remembered by many – it was leased by the SDP in the early 1980s and subsequently became the Liberal Democrats’ headquarters. However the building is no longer suitable for the needs of a modern political party.

As Chief Executive Chris Fox told staff this week,

It really will affect the way we talk to each other; we’ll all be working together quite literally on the same floor. That will make an enormous change to working practices.

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29 Comments

  • Andrea Gill 21st May '11 - 9:39pm

    Literally “all in this together” then…

  • … so Cowley Street is available? *twitch*

  • Not being funny, but if we’d been there during the tuition fee protests, we’d no longer be there. I remember a good few restive hours on the Gt George St barricade and it (and this place) were literally opposite the mania around the Treasury.

    I hope the party gets some serious insurance policies, seeing as it can’t guarantee there’ll be no more violent protests in Parliament Square again!

  • Can someone give me more details on the new HQ’s accessibility?
    I’ve done some more research and there are 5 steps to the entrance, steeper than Cowley Street.
    There are no permanent disabled toilets on the floor plans and the lifts are no larger than the standard toilet cubicles.
    This is a major oversight on those in charge of the move and means the new HQ will be less accessible to those with mobility issues.
    We should be moving to more accessible offices not less accessible!

  • John Richardson 22nd May '11 - 7:11am

    As a software engineer, my experience of open plan offices (particularly ones this size) was always that they were extremely deleterious to getting work done.

    You’re right there, Denny. Open plan working is hell on earth, particularly if your job involves thinking of any kind. It’s all very well saving upfront costs by dispensing with walls but all those savings and more will be lost when people find themselves constantly stressed out by the relentless noise and other distractions.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 22nd May '11 - 8:41am

    How do the costs of the two buildings compare?

  • Once again, one wonders why this move is being made now, in advance of any serious independent review of the needs of the Party determining what our staff and accommodation requirements should actually be – and where they should be located.

    Does the Federal Executive actually do any ‘executing’ in the Liberal Democrats and does it believe in ‘consultation’ before taking irrevocable decisions?

  • @Sara “Also the comment regarding accessiblity I find a little strange considering the top floors of Cowley St are completely off limits to those with mobility issues. Providing individuals with mobility issues can get into the new office, they will at least be able to get to all of it.”

    I agree, Cowley Street is far from perfect but with these steep steps, narrow lifts and no sign on disabled toilets, its quite probable that many physically disabled people won’t even be able to get into the new office. Unless a flat entrance is to be found, the front steps will need very large and cumbersome ramps which will leave little pavement for chair users to get onto them. Large scooters and electric wheelchairs will struggle with the lifts and if there is to be no disabled toilets then many will struggle with the standard loos. The office itself is modern yes but thats a moot point if people can’t get into it in the first place.

    Moving into new offices and not taking these points on board, in 2011!, is frankly narrow sighted and oblivious to the needs of members and staff, present and future.

  • Open plan working is hardly revolutionary for us. Don’t forget that the old Liberal Party Organisation was open plan when it was based in the National Liberal Club.

  • @Sara Scarlett – did you mean the “*Fully accessible raised floors” point? I saw that as well but I think its referring to the floating floor, so tenants can thread power and data cables under the floor and to the workstations.

  • Open plan offices can be noisy and distracting places to work. They are great though for managers to oversee what their workers are up to and how hard they are working, and who they are talking to…….

  • Foregone Conclusion 22nd May '11 - 9:37pm

    I was at the student protest (the one where they smashed up Millbank) and was outside Millbank about half an hour after the original breach when I overheard the following conversation between a couple of protestors:

    Idiot Trot 1: Let’s go smash up Lib Dem HQ! Where is it, d’you know?
    Idiot Trot 2: No… I think it’s somewhere around here. [Fiddles with his phone for a minute or two.] Apparently it’s on… Cowley Street?
    Idiot Trot 1: Where’s that then?
    Idiot Trot 2: Don’t know. I think it’s somewhere around here. [Squints at Google map a bit trying to find Cowley Street.] Erm… I don’t think we’ll bother.

    It occurred to me that we were saved, probably for the last time, by our obscurity.

  • I guess we will be on the 2nd floor, since that’s the nearest to the 7000sq.ft being quoted. I doubt if that will have the “Superb views of Parliament Square and Westminster Abbey”. The agent’s brochure doesn’t make it clear that the building is accessible for disabled people, though.

    It is true that open-plan can be noisy and distracting, but it doesn’t have to be.

    Shoulder-height partitions round workstations would limit the distractions, and liberal use of sound-absorbent materials on walls, floor and ceiling can reduce the noise to tolerable levels. I hope this is being considered. The ceiling element is often overlooked, and is critical.

    I will be very sad to leave Cowley Street – I first went there for Mike Hancock’s SDP knees-up after the Portsmouth South by-election in 1984, and I have been a regular weekly volunteer in Membership since I retired in 1991. It’s a beautiful example of Victorian corporate architecture, but it is unsuitable for today’s working methods.

  • So our cash strapped leaders in London are moving office with all the expense that involves, and there are always unforseen costs involved. Not only do they fail to consult, but announce this in the same week that all the regional staff are made redundant. What happened to the localism agenda? The grass roots membership is becoming more isolated.

  • @Sara – that *fully accessible* on the schedule on your link does not mean accessible for disabled people, it has a totally different connotation. If you were a wheelchair-user you would perhaps see that this is a “red herring” to fool us into thinking that the whole building is fully accessible.

    I hope that the “refurbishments” both proposed and in hand are alterations to facilitate disabled access, facilities and services with fully-manoeuvrable areas, especially in toilets where you need to be able to move around in a wheelchair in order to shut the door! You should see some of the so-called “disabled toilets” I have had the misfortune to go into! Not well thought-out at all. You need to consult disabled about their needs, not make assumptions about what their needs are (usually wrong ones too)! Outward-opening doors are essential for disabled toilets, otherwise you cannot close the door once in there.

  • Margaret A. Rutter 23rd May '11 - 3:16pm

    Can you give me the full postal address and telephone number for our new HQ inGreat George Street and the date when we should start using this address.

  • Graham Lippiatt 25th May '11 - 2:33pm

    Well, it will be quite nostalgic going to the new HQ as I used to work there as a Cabinet Office civil servant in my days in the Civil Contingencies Secretariat. I wonder if they’re still in the building?

  • Gareth Hartwell 2nd Jun '11 - 1:19pm

    I’d rather not get into the old ‘open plan debate’ (the last time I worked in a non open-plan environment was almost 20 years ago now!) but I do think that working on multiple floors as in Cowley Street.

    According to various research, the effectiveness of communication within the team drops off very quickly when people are working at different sides of the office, different floors, different buildings. Usually, people working on different floors in a building like Cowley Street would be only marginally more likely to talk to each other when they need to communicate than if they were on opposite sides of London. And when people don’t talk to each other (face-to-face, the old-fashioned way!), the effectiveness of their work also reduces significantly.

    It’s probably not that bad at HQ because our staff are unusually good communicators – however, effective communication between departments is so important to their job that I can see that Cowley Street isnt a suitable environment for them to work effectively. Bit of shame though because it has lots of memories!

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