Saturday 30 August 2014

Knowle relocation project: comment following on from .... FOI request goes to tribunal ... and ... Knowle on the market

There has been considerable comment going backwards and forwards these last couple of days on the blog of independent Cllr Claire Wright.

See also:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project ... District Council puts Knowle on the market
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: FOI request goes to tribunal: detailed report of proceedings

Knowle sale and relocation – Equalities Act 2010 – Equality Impact Assessment | East Devon Alliance

Revealed at secrecy trial: EDDC overview and scrutiny cttee was given edited report on office move

Thursday, 28 August 2014 13 Comments by Claire

EDDC’s overview and scrutiny committee was given an edited report to examine on the state of the Knowle buildings, it emerged at today’s Information Commissioner ICO) appeal tribunal.


1. At 08:23 pm on 28th Aug Mark Hawkins wrote:

Was it made clear who was responsible for the O & S committee receiving an edited report?

2. At 08:25 pm on 28th Aug Claire wrote:

No, but I think we can hazard a guess.

3. At 08:34 pm on 28th Aug Sandra Semple wrote:

I was at the court case and I am 100% certain that Mr Cohen said that it was his decision that the committee should receive his shorter report rather than the original longer one. He also said that the Committee was aware that it was receiving a redacted report and that “members of the O and S who were also on the Relocation Working Party should consider their position”. He did not elaborate on what he meant by that.

4. At 09:50 pm on 28th Aug Paul wrote:

Can anyone (Claire?) explain what Richard Cohen’s comment that “members of the O and S who were also on the Relocation Working Party should consider their position” means?

To the uninitiated it sounds like it might be a warning to them to keep their mouths shut? Or perhaps a warning that if they knew that the report was redacted but said nothing, then they should resign?

Your sincerely,

Mr Confused
Ottery St. Mary

5. At 10:26 pm on 28th Aug Damien Mills wrote:

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the second part of the tribunal but the morning part alone provided a fascinating insight into the machinations of East Devon District Council.

First and foremost, I lost count of the number of occasions on which Steve Pratten and Richard Cohen struggled to provide anything like a coherent answer to apparently straight-forward questions.

Much of this questioning revolved around whether Mr Pratten was, to all intents and purposes, a member of EDDC staff or an employee of Davis Langdon; EDDC sought to suggest it was the former and, this being the case, that the reports he had produced should be exempt from disclosure. We were asked to believe that Mr Pratten rarely, if ever, consulted with anyone at Davis Langdon and that their sole contribution to his reports was to check them for typos and grammatical errors.

One of the reports in question is accessible via the following link [Pages 9-15]:


As you’ll observe, the first and last pages are emblazoned with Davis Langdon’s logo, Davis Langdon’s name is on every page, and, moreover, the final page credits the report to Steve Pratten and gives his contact address as the firm’s Bristol office which, incidentally, Mr Pratten told the tribunal he only visited ‘once or twice a year’ when he had IT issues. Curiously, Mr Pratten’s LinkedIn profile also gives his location as Bristol!


If, for a minute, we accept the assertion of Messrs Cohen and Pratten that Davis Langdon’s contribution to this piece of work was negligible to nil then I would suggest that it was wholly inappropriate and misleading to present it to the overview & scrutiny committee in a format which suggested quite the opposite.

Surely to God, there should be no doubt whatsoever about the provenance of a report presented to this committee and if what we told earlier today was correct this should be looked at, as a matter of some urgency, by the council’s monitoring officer [and that’s before she considers Mr Cohen’s admission that he saw fit to edit the report before it was shared with the overview & scrutiny committee].

For what it’s worth, I find it hard to believe that Mr Pratten has not called on the expertise of his colleagues at Davis Langdon rather more often than was suggested and, moreover, that the council would not have routinely expected him to do so.

With this in mind, see, for instance, the following agenda for the cabinet meeting which took place on July, 9, 2013:


Remember, Mr Pratten told the tribunal Davis Langdon had little input in his work and would only check it for typos and grammatical errors. Yet, if you go to page 80, you will see three of the four project viability reports delivered at this stage have been signed of by a Darren Talbot. Lest you think otherwise, Darren Talbot wasn’t an office junior at Davis Langdon but a director and the head of project management for the South West:


Is it really conceivable that a person in Mr Talbot’s position would have signed off reports of this magnitude without, as was suggested today, having had any kind of conversation with Mr Pratten or offering any input?

And finally… here is a link to the press release published by EDDC on the occasion of Davis Langdon / Steve Pratten’s appointment:


As you’ll note, it’s no less a figure than EDDC leader Paul Diviani who says: ‘I am really excited we will have the extensive resources of Davis Langdon behind us as we approach this vital stage in the Council’s future development.’

Yet today a tribunal was asked to believe that the individual charged with delivering this project saw no necessity at all to utilise the extensive resources which, apparently, landed his employer this contract and, what’s more, that the powers that be at Knowle had no issue with this.

So, who do you believe?!

6. At 08:49 am on 29th Aug Chris wrote:

It should take all of 10 minutes to sort that out. How was he paid. If he was paid as a salaried employee, with tax deducted at source by EDDC that says he worked for EDDC. If he provided an invoice and was paid against the invoice he did not.

7. At 09:24 am on 29th Aug Ian McKintosh wrote:

1.Either Pratten is an ‘Independent Consultant’, or he is not ?!
2.If he is, what is cohen doing ‘fiddling’ with it before it goes to committee?
3. Is Cohen’s action “Misconduct in a Public Office”?
4. Cohen admitted that he had “edited”? it before putting it to committee. He should have laid
it before them as written,possibly with his own subsequent comments, if called upon to do so.

8. At 10:56 am on 29th Aug Claire wrote:

Hi Chris, from memory I think he said he was paid a lump sum from which he drew down a monthly income from. Not like the average employee….

9. At 11:15 am on 29th Aug Paul wrote:

1. If a Director of DL signs a document, then I think you can reasonably believe that the document is a DL one rather than one written by an employee who is a embedded pseudo council-officer.

2. In general, I have reservations about councillors being presented with any edited document - after all shouldn’t they be in possession of all the facts when considering something - even if it has edited by the author of the original document who has put his name to it and who can ensure that it still presents the same balanced view (though shortened) as the original document.

That said, I do understand that sometimes there are sections containing confidential material which needs to be redacted, and in this event I would like to see them blacked out rather than removed so that councillors are clear that information has been removed and can see the extent of the missing information even if they cannot see it.

But in this case, if I understand it correctly, we have an original document written by Mr Pratten on DL letterhead, subsequently changed by Mr Cohen and then submitted by him to the O&S Committee without any explicit statement or indication that it had been changed by EDDC and retaining the DL letterhead together with an explicit statement that it had been submitted by Mr Pratten. If this is the case, then at best it is quite wrong, but it also could be against the Code of Conduct for Council Officers or possibly even illegal or fraudulent.

We need to understand the provenance of the report submitted to the O&S Committee meeting of 26 July 2012 and whether it had been edited by Mr Cohen or Mr Pringle - and whether Mr Pringle had approved the edited version prior to it being submitted to the committee.

3. The minutes of the O&S meeting of 26 July 2012 (as opposed to the agenda linked to above) can be found athttp://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/osc_mins_260712.pdf , and there is absolutely no mention in the minutes of the report submitted with the agenda. I cannot believe that this document was not discussed by the committee, and I would have expected some mention to have been made in the minutes. But most importantly it should have been explicitly noted for the record that this was an edited version of the document, otherwise how would anyone know either at the time or after the event that this was the case.

IF Richard Cohen did indeed edit the document, particularly if Mr Pratten had not reapproved it, and then submit it as shown with a statement that it had been submitted by Mr Pratten, then I would want to see this referred for an official investigation.

10. At 11:19 am on 29th Aug Chris wrote:

So it was not taxed at source by EDDC and therefore the conclusion is simple.

11. At 11:26 am on 29th Aug Damien Mills wrote:

My take was slightly different to Claire’s; I thought Steve Pratten said that Davis Langdon were paid a lump sum and that a proportion of this was passed on to him.

Indeed a look at EDDC’s spending over recent months would appear to confirm this is the case:


If you look on the first page of each of these documents, you will see EDDC is paying AECOM Ltd - for the uninitiated, Davis Langdon is a subsidiary of AECOM - £9,184.04 every month.

So, in answer to Chris’s question, it seems fairly safe to assume that Mr Pratten was not paid by EDDC but by Davis Langdon.

If we assume, Davis Langdon took a cut of the £9.184.04 and that Mr Pratten only received a proportion of this sum then one might reasonably ask, in light of the testimony heard yesterday, what, exactly, it was Davis Langdon were doing to earn their cut and why the deputy chief executive didn’t demand more of an input from them.

12. At 12:25 pm on 29th Aug Sandra Semple wrote:

Yes, my notes say a a set fee with monthly sum “drawn down” - unfortunately no-one asked how the set fee was split between Mr Pratten and Davis Langdon.

One other thing (among many) which worries me is that Mr Pratten said, in the regular meeting, in his section of the minutes, the minute taker cut and pasted up to 60% of his report (already provided to people attending) into the minutes - so, as it has already been agreed that minutes can be secret very little is left to disclose.

My question: why would experienced minute takers at EDDC do this? That is not minute taking, which is about how decisions are reached with the information available. It beggars belief.

13. At 10:57 pm on 29th Aug Tim Todd wrote:

Documents showing that EDDC pays AECOM/DAVIS LANGDON , for the services of Pratten, have been seen under the rights of the public to see their accounts at certain times. They show numerous payments of around £10500 each month.
The contract spec, the FFF , so frequently referred to, contains much detail about all elements of the contract, the project, the qualifications of the person supplied as project manager etc. Nowhere does it suggest any special employment relationship will exist between Pratten and EDDC. Why is such detail missing if that was to be the unique case claimed by Cohen?

Revealed at secrecy trial: EDDC overview and scrutiny cttee was given edited report on office move - Claire Wright

Knowle goes on sale as arguments unfold at secrecy hearing

Thursday, 28 August 2014 14 Comments by Claire

With interesting timing EDDC puts the Knowle up for sale, as it defends the indefensible at its office relocation secrecy tribunal at Exeter Magistrates Court, today.

See Express & Echo article here 

- http://www.exeterexpressandecho.co.uk/Sidmouth-s-Knowle-site-sale/story-22843151-detail/story.html The prime Knowle site in Sidmouth, home of East Devon District Council, has come on the market.

1. At 12:40 pm on 29th Aug Paul wrote:

“Not having made a decision” was a key reason for not providing information to Jeremy Woodward’s FoI request. So, does putting the Knowle on sale now indicate that “a decision has been made to relocate”?

2. At 01:41 pm on 29th Aug Sandra Semple wrote:

Panic sale?

3. At 02:17 pm on 29th Aug John Richards wrote:

Thank goodness for that at last something positive for good old Sidmouth, New buildings = more residents = more jobs and most of all, more retail opportunities for local business in the town and tradesmen, suppliers and all that goes with an increased population. Good to see that the park is retained although when I have gone past not many seem to use it.

4. At 05:36 pm on 29th Aug Sandra Semple wrote:

Number of new residents? Maybe a hundred, many of them older people using stretched out services (and I’m old so not biased). Jobs lost 400 plus - many young professionals. Is it really a good deal?

5. At 05:45 pm on 29th Aug Michael Temple wrote:

More jobs, John? How many will be lost from EDDC’s move?
More retail - well, yes, but probably at the Sidford Industrial-retail park and at the Alexandria Road superstore - pity the poor town traders, though
And the park will lose its finest feature - its lawned terraces and prospect and the rest of the south park will be looked down on by buildings, and EDDC are even intent on denying public access to the park from its most used entrance.
Enjoy it while you can, John…

6. At 09:13 pm on 29th Aug Conrad Black wrote:

Actually the process is very simple. Sign all the sale documents for the Knowle and Manstone before anyone can take legal action to stay the Council. Make sure the sale is irrevocable so nobody can afford to undo it, and make sure the people that sign the documents cannot be held personally liable for anything anytime anywhere. And delay the adoption of a local plan as long as possible so that permissions that could never otherwise be obtained will be granted all round the District, and especially the Knowle, Manstone, .......

Have I missed anything?

7. At 11:28 am on 30th Aug John Richards wrote:

Where are these 400 job losses the majority will go with the council wherever it moves to, so no East Devon job losses, a number of these personell never see the Knowle or Sidmouth they work all over the distict, which includes some of my relatives. As for the industrial estate whats wrong with producing more jobs in the area, some retail owners in the town would like to diversify thier businesses in the area. As for buildings looking down on the park area, some local housing allready enjoy this why not more after all there was a time when Knowle Drive never existed. By the way where do you buy your aspic from you are going to need a substantial amount to cover the area so no change happens in the future and then the area dies. Just look at some coastal towns in North Devon where this has allready happened, I do not believe we have a Damien Hurst to step in and try to regenerate.

8. At 11:39 am on 30th Aug Claire wrote:

@Paul. My understanding that a decision to relocate has been made (however, not irreversible) and that a decision to negotiate a price for the land at Skypark was made by the conservative majority at full council in Feb. Here are the recommendations that were agreed at that combustible meeting -

RECOMMENDED (1) that the further analysis provided in the report and its
attachments be noted:
(2) that the opportunities, risks and risk management
approach inherent in the project plan and its conditions
and gateways be noted:

(3) New Office
(a) that the order of site preference advised in the
report (site scoring outcomes were included at
Appendix 2 to the report) and the Office
Accommodation Executive Group’s
recommendation to decide between Clyst
House, Winslade Park or Skypark be noted;

(b) that a preferred site and acquisition costs of
Skypark- £986,000 (site) be recommended to
Council and for detailed negotiation to begin.
(Costs include Stamp Duty Land Tax but
exclude VAT);

(c) that, subject to Council agreement, officers be
instructed to take forward the agreed option
under the continued guidance of the Executive
Group, with key future decisions being subject to
Cabinet and Council approval;

(d) that formal approval to proceed with the
purchase be referred to Cabinet and Council –
reports to this effect are anticipated for
considered around July 2014;

(e) that, as an immediate action, a marketing
exercise be conducted to engage developer
interest (for a amount which was disclosed at
the meeting) and ascertain the values and
variety of proposals for development on the
Knowle and Manstone Depot sites;

(f) that further project management costs through
to completion of the Project in the sum of up to
£88,000 for professional service costs including
project management, architects, engineers and
other designers), Fees, etc (excluding VAT) be

@John, you may like to read the economic report that was published with the planning application. The consequences of EDDC relocating would be a serious adverse economic impact on Sidmouth.

9. At 11:59 am on 30th Aug Michael Temple wrote:

- Skypark is much nearer to Exeter than to almost all of East Devon: aren’t jobs at EDDC likely to go to people outside the district (and presumably jobs will also be lost if/when adjoining councils share services)?
- Btw the loss of 200 free weekend parking places at Knowle will surely affect town trade and tourism?
- The fact that parts of the original Knowle estate were sold for housing is no justification for destroying what remains, much of which is a public open space.

10. At 12:26 pm on 30th Aug Damien Mills wrote:

Can someone, please, explain something to me?!

At the FoI tribunal on Thursday, we were told, ad infinitum, that EDDC couldn’t share it’s relocation reports because they were ‘commercially sensitive’ and, were they to enter the public domain, might push up the price of a new HQ.

Given EDDC has made it very clear SkyPark is its preferred option, I’m struggling to comprehend what could be in any of the reports that might serve to inflate the purchase cost.

As I see it, publication of these reports would have no effect whatsoever on EDDC’s bargaining position which, leads me to conclude, there must be another reason why the council, is apparently, so desperate to suppress them.

11. At 12:35 pm on 30th Aug John Richards wrote:

Thanks for your reply but I find myself slighty puzzled because remembering past newspaper articles etc,you and others do not agree with the facts and fugures coming from EDDC or thier consultants and now you are asking me to look at them, anyway if my memory is correct it is about 8-10% decrease in high st spend and about 70 job losses, but would that not be balanced out by services to whatever is built at Knowle and if it happens the New Sidford Industrial estate, if not then I have heard that there is expansion planned at Alexandria, but as usual local objections have already gone to EDDC ( Why buy a house next to an industrial estate then complain about noise) common sence would say that all these different events happening would give a balance to the area.

12. At 12:39 pm on 30th Aug Claire wrote:

I have never disputed the economic report of the impact on Sidmouth of redeveloping the Knowle. I have disputed the reports on how dilapidated the Knowle buildings are. Slightly different.

I don’t have the report to hand but I do remember that it showed that the effect would be significant.

13. At 03:42 pm on 30th Aug Tim Todd wrote:

I agree. I cannot see any reason for Skypark price to go up, though it may go down if EDDC put other previously appropriate venues back on the options list- they rather put their foot in it betting all on Skypark. It isn’t as though there is great competition for land at Skypark after Sainsbury have pulled out- and there is always Rolle College going begging

14. At 04:27 pm on 30th Aug Sandra Semple wrote:

When (not if) EDDC moves its HQ to Skypark, a massive new retail park is being built opposite the Honiton Road Park and Ride - an area covered by Exeter City Council. People working at the HQ (and luving in Cranbrook) will be spending their money in the Exeter City Council area and business rates will accrue to the same council - which will already be bolstered by its massive Ikea store. More income to Exeter, less income to East Devon.

Knowle goes on sale as arguments unfold at secrecy hearing - Claire Wright.

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