Monday, 25 August 2014

Knowle relocation project: “We are committed to exploring all options for a possible new office site as well as maximising the values from our landholdings. One option has always been the sale of our Heathpark site alongside that of Knowle and Manstone Depot in Sidmouth and to use the money raised for a new, more efficient and modern headquarters”

This week, the District Council will be arguing against publishing reports on its relocation project:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: FOI request goes to tribunal: Exeter Magistrates Court: Thursday 28th August... further reports

The context to this hearing is the District Council's plans to relocate - which should be 'cost-neutral':

A “COST neutral” district council move from Knowle in Sidmouth to purpose-built new premises in Honiton will save tax-payers’ cash in the long-term.
“Working in a modern environment (new headquarters) will enable cost savings to be made and the move is intended to be cost neutral." (Februay 2012)

Knowle move will be “cost neutral”- EDDC leader - News - Sidmouth Herald

Office move takes another step forward

Further research into the viability of the council's office relocation to SkyPark was given the go ahead by full council last night (26 February 2013).

Council officers will now enter a further evaluation and negotiation phase with the preferred option of SkyPark. A report outlining whether the council should commit funding to the new headquarters is expected to be presented to cabinet and full council in July.

Councillor Paul Diviani, leader of East Devon District Council, said:

"Now we have full council's approval to enter further negotiations with the preferred option of SkyPark we can focus our attention solely on this site..."

A marketing exercise for Knowle and Manstone will now also get underway, as well as an investigation into options on re-provision of business space to succeed East Devon Business Centre. This follows full council's decision to offer the council's Heathpark site for redevelopment.

Capital receipts from Knowle, Manstone and Heathpark will be invested in the new headquarters so that the council keeps its commitment not to place any extra burden on Council Tax payers.

Back in November, cabinet shortlisted five out of 15 possible sites for new office accommodation. These were Cranbrook town centre, SkyPark, two sites in Heathpark in Honiton and Clyst House at Winslade Park. Apart from the two sites in Honiton, all other options were to the west of the district. Cabinet asked for further evaluation of these locations, including site visits, further work with developers and agents, an equality analysis, expert spatial analysis and additional intelligence. In January the Office Accommodation Member Executive Group considered the options - along with the option to stay at Knowle - and the top two scoring location were presented to cabinet. these were SkyPark and Clyst House, Winslade Park

Cabinet took the decision on 5 February to go with SkyPark.

If cabinet and full council commit funding to the new headquarters in the summer it is likely that the council would relocated towards the end of 2016

The latest edition of East Devon Extra (180KB Portable Document Format - 27 February 2014 - PDF Help) gives further details.

East Devon District Council - Moving and Improving

And as reported on the EDA website last year:

Diviani: “maximising the values from our landholdings”

6 September 2013

In a press release from EDDC yesterday it became clear that Council Leader Paul Diviani’s pet project to move EDDC’s HQ from the Knowle might be less “cost neutral” than promised.

He said “expressions of interest are to be sought for the Council-owned Heathpark site in Honiton following the Cabinet decision (4 September) to test the market.”

He went on: “We are committed to exploring all options for a possible new office site as well as maximising the values from our landholdings. One option has always been the sale of our Heathpark site alongside that of Knowle and Manstone Depot in Sidmouth and to use the money raised for a new, more efficient and modern headquarters”

Is this the first time that it has been suggested that it might be necessary to sellthree council-owned sites to fund the move?

No wonder one of the most respected and experienced Tory councillors, Peter Halse, expressed concern about the financial risks of “moving and improving” at July’s full council meeting.

Critics have accused the EDDC communications office of peddling propaganda. Their suspicions will not have been eased by yesterday’s press release claiming that the district-wide “stakeholder” meeting held at the end of July, “encouraged” the Knowle move.

This will surprise quite a number of attendees at the cosmetic publicity stunt convened after the decision to relocate had been taken by the council.

They reported numerous criticisms of the relocation project project put to Cllr Diviani at the meeting.

Diviani: “maximising the values from our landholdings” | Sidmouth Independent News
East Devon District Council - News
Council to test market on Heathpark site, Honiton - Claire Wright 
A year later, a useful summary from today's EDA website:


Cost of selling Knowle: a useful graphic | East Devon Alliance

Sell the Knowle: 
Through the Plan period there will be a loss of approximately 8.16 Ha of employment land to residential uses (not including the Knowle site)
12/1847/MOUT | Outline application proposing demolition of existing buildings (retention of building B) for class D1 non-residential institution and park rangers station (Sui Generis), residential development of up to 50no. dwellings (Class C3 use), 60no. bed graduated care home (Class C2 use) and access (all matters reserved except access) | Council Offices Knowle Sidmouth EX10 8HL

Borrow £4.8m:
Richard Cohen, Deputy Chief Executive presented his report on options to address the Council’s future accommodation requirements. Since the Development Management Committee (1 March 2013) had refused the application for alternativeuse of the Knowle site, work had continued on the viability analysis of various options:
 Remaining at the Knowle in a reconfigured form
 Honiton options
 Relocation to Cranbrook
 Other sites in the district
The viability analysis identified that remaining at the Knowle site was not a sustainable option as the ‘outdated’ offices were not fit for purpose and costly to run. 
The report included the Council’s continued commitment to
 providing fit for purpose and functional office accommodation that placed no extra burden on the East Devon tax-payer, and,
 to maintaining a significant presence in Exmouth. 
The option to move would use capital receipts from the sale of the Knowle and, if required, prudential borrowing up to a maximum of £4.8M (the calculated savings on running costs over the 20 years following the move). Key overall risks within the project were noted by Cabinet together with how these would be managed. The calculations included a 20% contingency. The public speaker had stated that the carbon cost of relocation would take 50 years to recoup. The Deputy Chief Executive challenged this statement. He said that although there would be an inevitable carbon cost, this needed to be balanced over time and the argument was out-weighed by the energy efficiencies of new offices. A more accurate calculation would be 11 years. One of the key drivers for the proposed relocation was the high running costs and essential maintenance required at Knowle. However, the project was not just about the need to save money; it would help facilitate improved, modern, efficient service provision.
Knowle’s annual running costs, allowing for inflation, over the next twenty years are £ 4.8m more than similar costs for a new purpose built office. 
EDDC Conservative councillors have collective amnesia about £4.8m loan | Sidmouth Independent News
Councillors deny £4.8m loan is needed for office move - Claire Wright

Sell Manstone Depot: 
0.55 Ha will be lost from employment to residential use at Manstone Lane as will approximately 2.77 Ha at the Knowle Council offices.
Council sell-off stays on hold due to appeal - News - Sidmouth Herald

Sell East Devon Business Centre: 
Council agrees to review business accommodation support (From Mid Devon Star)
East Devon campaigners stage surprise protest against closed council office move meeting | Exeter Express and Echo

Sell the SITA (Heathpark) site in Honiton: 
Heathpark, Honiton (former Sita Depot site)
Following Cabinet’s decision in September 2013 the Heathpark site had been marketed. Eight bids were received by the deadline and these were then shortlisted to four. Cabinet would consider a report on 5 February with a recommendation regarding the viability of the sale of the Heathpark site. 
"Achieving a successful disposal is identified as a key element in funding the relocation of East Devon District Council’s central office function from their existing head office at the Knowle in Sidmouth."
EAST DEVON: Shortlist for new council offices - View from Sidmouth
HONITON: Town is ‘being put up for sale’, says Honiton mayor - View from Honiton

A letter from February's Herald also provides a useful summary:

They’re in dreamland

Saturday, February 15, 2014

If your pre-1980s home was “not fit for purpose”, what would you do?

a) get several quotes for a new kitchen and bathroom plus re-wiring and compare the prices?

b) just add a lick of paint, tidy the garden and put it on the market?

c) forget the decorating, just put it up for auction?

d) see whether the family owns any other properties you could sell and borrow a huge sum of money to build your DREAM HOME?

Guess which option EDDC has chosen? You’ve guessed it – Option D.

To date they have spent over £350,000 and have committed £800,000 (so far) on this project, excluding officer time.

They want to sell The Knowle and Manstone Depot in Sidmouth, plus the East Devon Business Centre and SITA site at Honiton.

Still this will not be enough for their DREAM HOME, so in addition they may have to borrow up to £4.8million.

However, it is a safe bet that this will not be the end of the matter and YOU, the ratepayer, will end up footing the bill.

WE paid for their existing premises, so shouldn’t we have a say?

The costs have escalated from the initial estimated £1million refurbishment of a “not fit for purpose” building – yet the red brick building was only constructed in the 1970s.

An email sent to me on February 2 by Councillor Mike Allen stated: “The cost of £15million for refurbishment compared to another building for £5million-£9million simply makes no sense to me.

“You can be sure that any proposals from officers will be closely scrutinised and the right questions asked.

“We are not party political lemmings, we are looking for the best decision for all for the next 25 to 59 years.”

By this analogy, parliament (re-built 1852, House of Commons) would by now have been moved around London several times and could have been rebuilt at least three times (every 59 years) or, worst case scenario, seven times (every 25 years), but at what cost? What guarantee do we, the public, have that EDDC will not come back in 2050 saying, once again, that their “new” building is not “fit for purpose”?

The ambition in West Dorset to move to new premises had a catastrophic outcome resulting in the need for a £2million rescue as West Dorset District Council’s proposals were in danger of collapsing due to the economic climate, and the council receiving low bids in attempting to sell their existing building.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned!

Frankly, it is the councillors who made this decision who are not “fit for purpose”.

Marianne Rixson

They’re in dreamland - Letters - Sidmouth Herald

Finally, as pointed out by the EDA blog:
“Cost neutral” is not cost free | Sidmouth Independent News

See also:

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