Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Knowle relocation project: Honiton "up for sale"

The District Council's relocation plans have not been met with universal approval in Honiton:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: the current issues... District Council cabinet to consider its "Relocation Update": Weds 4th June
Futures Forum: The future of Heathpark: a conflagration of issues...
Futures Forum: How to alienate your electorate and lose influence

There was comment back in April when the District Council unexpectedly chose SkyPark over Honiton for its new HQ:

Councillor Peter Corke, Honiton Town Council’s representative for the Chamber of Commerce, said he shared traders’ concerns and that Honiton had been “kicked in the ditch” with regard to East Devon District Council’s recent rejection of Heathpark as a location for its new offices.

The land could now be snapped up by a private developer and at least one major supermarket is said to be in the running to build on the site.

HONITON: Calls to combat retail threat

Matters have resurfaced with fears for another site in Honiton - which could have repercussions for the town - as highlighted on the East Devon Alliance blog:


August 19 2014

Councillor Peter Halse, Honiton Town Councillor, East Devon District Councillor and former Chairman of EDDC is quoted in the “View from Honiton” newspaper today. He says the town is being “put up for sale” by district councillors to fund their costly relocation project. The article is quoted below:

“Town Up for Sale” says Honiton Mayor, EDDC Councillor (and former Chairman of EDDC) as he criticises his own council on the Knowle relocation | East Devon Alliance

Here is the article in full:

HONITON: Town is ‘being put up for sale’, says Honiton mayor

20th August 2014 by Jack Dixon

HONITON is being “put up for sale” by district councillors in order to fund their costly relocation project, the town’s mayor has claimed.

Councillor Peter Halse, who became first citizen in May and also represents the town on the district council, said decisions were being made that were not in the interests of Honiton residents.

Land at the Heathpark estate had been identified as a possible location for East Devon District Council’s new office complex.

But in a controversial move earlier this year, councillors opted to reject the Honiton site and build new headquarters at SkyPark, on the outskirts of the district. The land now looks likely to be sold for the development of a new supermarket.

And in a further blow to the local economy, the district’s business hub – currently based at Heathpark – has also been lined up for closure.

At a town council meeting last week, former mayor Councillor Vernon Whitlock raised the issue of businesses being forced to relocate.

And Councillor Halse admitted that he shared the concerns of businesses, councillors and residents, who feel the town is being stripped of its assets. Speaking at the meeting, he said: “I am at loggerheads with the [district] council on the way this has been done. I am disappointed that they will be demolishing a building that is of great use to the town and is not costing anything. Initially they told us another facility would be provided, but it turns out they were thinking the private sector could replace it.

“The fact of the matter, in my personal view, is that Honiton is being put up for sale and its assets are being razed in order for the district council to move to the outskirts of Exeter. That is not in the public interest and I do not like it. We in Honiton do not like it. I think it is a big mistake.”

As part of the development of the site, the East Devon Business Centre will be vacated and EDDC has already agreed to review its approach to provision of business space across the district.

The council is also encouraging the private sector to support the local business community instead. Consultancy firm Carter Jonas is due to make recommendations for the building’s future next month.

And Councillor Halse said he was disappointed that district councillors had not listened to his arguments earlier in the process. He added: “I have made my protests but they [EDDC] seem to have made their decision on moving. They thought originally they would be able to make a huge amount of money from the Knowle [the current council premises in Sidmouth] but now they realise it is not such a jewel in the crown as they once thought it was. I am a Honiton resident put on the district council to serve the people of Honiton, but I do not believe this is in the interests of Honiton.”

Councillor Vivienne Ash, who spoke out earlier this year using similar terms to describe the problems facing the town, welcomed the mayor’s comments. She warned that councillors must “fight” to ensure the town retains as many of its assets as possible.

And Colin Wright, chairman of the Honiton Chamber of Commerce and East Devon Association of Chambers, reiterated his concerns for small businesses in the town, as a result of the proposed changes. He said: “I am particularly concerned for start-up businesses and where they can be based. Businesses in Honiton have a lot to offer but need the advice, support and experience provided at the centre.”

HONITON: Town is ‘being put up for sale’, says Honiton mayor - View from Honiton

The East Devon Alliance blog has a further piece from today, following on from comment in the Midweek Herald:


August 20 2014

This week’s Midweek Herald adds some interesting information to the story carried yesterday that former Chairman of East Devon District Council and town councillor, Peter Halse, believes that Honiton is being asset-stripped to pay for the vanity project EDDC HQ office relocation.

The Midweek Herald adds more comments from Councillor Halse:

… “In my personal view, Honiton is being put up for sale. Assets are being raised in order for the council to move to the outskirts of Exeter, which is not in the public interest”.

Mr Halse told the meeting that he had made strong protests to the district council regarding the move and added that he thought the district council had now realised “the Knowle is not quite the jewel in East Devon’s crown as it thought it was and that it was having to find other assets elsewhere.

An EDDC spokesperson said in response to this:

… “The question of succession to East Devon Business Centre has given us an opportunity to look again at how we can help meet the needs of business into the future in a words of enterprise and entrepreneurism very different from what existed when Heathpark Business Centre first opened its doors.

Lead members for business and officers carried out a tender exercise and interviewed four different consultancies. The chosen company, Carter Jonas, are in the process of gathering evidence and are expected to report back with their findings and recommendations within the next month or so”.

This raises several interesting questions:

If a respected and long-serving majority party Councillor has no real idea what is going on – how on earth do councillors not privy to the thoughts of those in the “inner sanctum” understand what they are voting for with the Skypark project?

The press release speaks only of something going out to tender – it does not say exactly what the tender was for and we will never know because the Asset Management Forum at EDDC has always met in secret and provides no agendas or minutes of its meetings for the public.

Councillor Halse’s comments seem to imply that EDDC is not going to get as much as it had wanted for Knowle. They have long said that the move will be “cost neutral” but that was when only Knowle and Manston Depot were mentioned. Is it still cost neutral when you add in the loss of the Heathpark site and the East Devon Business Centre? Again we will never know because the Relocation Working Party meetings are also held in secret and no agendas or minutes are produced.

We have a situation now where ALL decisions are now made in secret. Instead of information going to committees for discussion and decision they are being referred to creatively-named “Forums” and “Groups” so that the decision-making can all take place behind closed doors where even majority party councillors have no idea what is going on.

Let us hope that when the next council is convened it votes for a Committee system of decision-making rather than an Executive Board system which allows a very small number of people – hand-picked by the Leader – to take decisions on behalf of the majority.

Remember Leader Diviani’s last election promise: Clean, Green and Seen. Not Unclean, Ungreen and Unseen.

“Honiton for Sale” part 2 – some questions but very little chance of answers | East Devon Alliance

See also:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: moving to Skypark................. further comment
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: moving to Skypark: reports

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