Tuesday 2 September 2014

Knowle relocation project: Q & A pages updated today...

The District Council's 'moving and improving' pages have been updated - today.

Interestingly, the set of Qs and As are now filed under the 'stakeholder event' 
- which was held in July 2013:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation: stakeholder event... District Council view
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation: stakeholder event... stakeholder views
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation: stakeholder event... the Futures Forum view

Here are the District Council's 'moving and improving' pages from that July 2013:
Futures Forum: Knowle: moving and improving

Moving and Improving - FAQ

We know that many people have questions about our proposal to move our Council HQ from Knowle, Sidmouth to another location in the district. Here we try to answer those questions.
We have divided the questions into groups for people to explore.
Page last updated on 2 September 2014
East Devon District Council - Moving and Improving FAQ

Stakeholder Engagement Event 26 July 2013

Which of Honiton or Cranbrook is more central to people coming to visit the offices?
We shouldn’t get too focused on the geographic location of any new office because a) it isn’t decided yet and b) many customers deal with us online or by phone and many of our staff are already available across the district such as benefits, planning and Streetscene staff. However, we do need to keep in mind that the large bulk of the population of the district are in the Western half.
What about air conditioning for a new building, it’s not been mentioned but would surely add to costs?
There are no plans to have traditional air conditioning as the office would be cooled through natural ventilation. This is part of our aim to have a BREEAM Excellent rating for the new office.
Costs appear to be the driver for this project. How confident are you that the 20% contingency you have put aside will be enough to manage any overruns?
As we have made clear, keeping costs down for the District is a priority for the Council and office relocation is a part of that. We have taken professional advice and have visited other public sector and private organisations who’ve undertaken such moves to gain from their experience and they have all said that contingency is a normal and sensible practice. If you do the proper management and preparation upfront then you manage costs better in the long run. This means for instance being clear about your design, commitment to it and don’t keep changing it. We feel confident that if properly planned and managed the contingency should be more than adequate.
Did you consider the refurbishment of the more recent office block of the Knowle offices and demolition of the Victorian element for housing?
Yes, we did fully consider that option. The space available in the office extension blocks built in the 1970s and 1980s is insufficient to house all the staff, the mixed site approach is unlikely to be attractive to a developer and even these so called modern offices would require considerable sums to bring them up to scratch. Financially it doesn’t work.
In your office accommodation cost calculations did you include rental, interest and borrowing costs?
Yes. Purchase, rental and borrowing costs are all factored in.
Are these costs publicly available?
Not yet as they include commercially sensitive information. However we would like to publish at a time when the information is no longer sensitive. Just as we have done for the sale of Elizabeth Hall: once the figures were no longer deemed commercially sensitive we published them.
You identified a figure of £4.5 million figure is that the economic impact on Sidmouth?
No, that figure is not the economic impact on Sidmouth. We are estimating that there will be a £4.8million saving on annual running costs by moving to a new purpose built office of the appropriate size over a 20 year period, as compared to staying at the Knowle.
What is the estimated Capital Cost of a new build office?
It is not possible to be exact and any figures should be treated with caution. However, as a ball park figure something in the region of £6 - 8 million is not unreasonable, depending whether it is constructed to a BREEAM Very Good or Excellent Standard.
You have used a 20 year figure in your finance model but many Council’s use 45 years for payback for Council house buildings for example. Using that model the savings you will accrue are actually far higher than you have stated. In addition have you factored in the rising price of energy which again makes your cost savings probably an under-statement?
We have worked on a prudent cost model based on the period of time of a new office from new build to first refurbishment.  
Why have you boxed yourself into the £4.8 million in terms of what a new office can add to the organisation. There are a whole range of other benefits such as improved service delivery, new employment opportunities, and greater productivity. You shouldn’t underestimate these benefits.
Yes, you are quite right, there is a mix of non-financial benefits which we are considering and aim to achieve through new office accommodation.
If you chose the Cranbrook site for instance you would be providing a huge economic boost to the new town and providing additional employment for its 3,000 residents. This would help attract a range of other businesses which would then in turn produce more business rates and make your financial model even stronger.
Again, this is correct with regard to additional benefits but we have deliberately taken a conservative view on the financing.
Has the Council decided which stakeholders and issues have more weight, for instance what is the business driver for this decision saving money for taxpayers, better working conditions for staff or the wider economic benefit such as providing real help to small businesses?
We have tried to keep all our stakeholders in mind and we see this as a district wide issue. We would support further understanding of the economic impact on the location that we choose.
Please can you clarify the financial points as I can’t see how you get to the payback model? How is it cost effective to spend £6-8 million to save £189,000 a year?
We estimate £6 -8 million for a new build. We would have to pay £1.56 million just to do essential repairs to Knowle such as stopping the roof leaking. Bringing all the existing offices up to modern day standards would be in the region of £15 million and even part of the buildings would be many million. The capital receipt we would receive for part of the site would not even start to cover this.
I am surprised that Cranbrook town centre is on your list as a possible location as the ethos of Cranbrook is away from car parks and the use of cars. Our view is that Skypark is the best possible location because of the car parking issues.
We are aware of the Cranbrook issue and fully support that. There are positives to the Council being based in the centre of its new community but we would not want our presence to result in our new town becoming car dominated. We will need to look carefully at the options and the pros and cons of these.
This is a gamble and there are risks which you have outlined. It is only two years since district elections and there was no manifesto commitment to do this. Should this not be put to the test with the electorate in two years time? You have no democratic justification for this decision to be made.
At the outset I [Council Leader Paul Diviani] alluded to the economic situation and we are all aware of the severe cuts to local government finances which are still to come which total millions of pounds. What was in our manifesto was a commitment to keeping council tax low and we are delivering on that promise.
We have a representative democracy where you have elected councillors to act on your behalf in the best interests of the district. The Cabinet voted unanimously in favour of moving and Full Council had a clear majority in favour. We need to start looking to the future and getting on with it.
I cannot stand here knowing that inaction is wasting taxpayers’ money in a building not fit for purpose. The die is cast. Full Council on Wednesday 24 July 2013 made the decision to move. Now we are looking to the future. I am confident that our desire to work with stakeholders will see a positive solution.
What is the purpose of having a new HQ?
We need to modernise the way we work and keep to our commitment of keeping the council tax low.
What might a new Council chamber look like?
We are looking to provide a much better Council Chamber to improve the experience for members of the public and to have a room which is flexible and can be used by a range of other groups and organisations.
What will you be doing to build on working with town councils to provide satellite facilities?
We already provide many services such as benefits advice out at the town halls so we can expand on this where there is a clear demand as well as expanding the online and phone options for people who want to deal with us that way. What we are not looking at is creating more physical offices in the towns but we will keep abreast of customer demand and like any service provider ensure that we can meet those needs.
The accessibility of the new offices is a key issue for those who won’t be able to get to them by public transport from some of the more rural areas. There needs to be sufficient parking how will you deal with that issue?
The amount of visitor parking provided with any new office will be part of the planning process however, we will also look at public car park provision close by.
If you move to Cranbrook how can you make sure that the new office doesn’t dominate the new town?
We don’t want to become fixated on one site just yet as we need to look at the issues and financial viability of more than one location.
What is the long term viability of the project, we would not want to see the Council swap a capital asset (Knowle) for a long term liability?
We would not have an ongoing revenue cost such as rental because we would be buying and owning the freehold and new asset outright.
What will you do to mitigate the negative economic impact on Sidmouth?
We recognise that there will inevitably be an economic loss to Sidmouth. We will work with Sidmouth Town Council to look at the best ways to mitigate the impact of the Council leaving the town.
You need to look at new ways of working and there will be risks on the ICT front. You must think about sharing council services with other organisations. We are positive about more web based transactions but you need to keep some face to face.
Yes, we will be developing our online capability but we appreciate the need to offer our customers a range of channels to meet their different needs. We work on an evidence base to put the right types of services in the right places. We will not be putting a one size fits all solution in place.
We think you should provide more customer -focused services and include more devolvement to the towns?
The Council already has a range of its services provided across the district: benefits advice, housing services, countryside and Streetscene. We are definitely committed to being even more customer focused. In terms of devolvement if towns or parishes wanted to provide services for EDDC that could be part of the discussion and we are looking to provide more mobile services such as our benefits and planning surgeries and Streetscene services but as stated earlier we are not looking to build new buildings in the towns or create new offices there.
We want you to focus on future service delivery and the move to more online services. We don’t want you to become too HQ centric but do more work with the towns. We think you need to look at the economic impact on Sidmouth and mitigation. You must provide enough parking at any new HQ so that people particularly in the rural parts of the district can get to you as they will have no choice but to use their cars as they don’t have any public transport services to speak of.
What will happen to the Streetscene staff when you make changes to the Sidmouth depot?
The depot is part of the saleable land along with Knowle but it won’t mean that Sidmouth gets a poorer service from Streetscene in terms of keeping streets clean and the gardens up to scratch just that some of the staff will work from a different base.
Any new building needs to be flexible including the Council Chamber so that it can be used by a wide range of groups. It also needs to be future proof so make it flexible so you can rent it out. Again we agree we do need services in local towns and interactive services as well as more mobile staff.
We need to be clear about what the demand is in different parts of the district for services. We are not looking to create more physical structures but we may deliver more services in flexible ways.
If EDDC is working more closely with Teignbridge DC and Exeter CC as discussed earlier why don’t all three councils look to share a building somewhere possibly Exeter?
Sharing could be an option but has a lot of complexity in it and congestion in Exeter would certainly be an issue counting against a city centre location.
Will you consider Skypark as a possible location for a new office?
Yes we will explore that option and have a discussion with the Skypark developer.
How will the new HQ help local businesses?
Economic vitality is a key issue for the Council and we want to have an active dialogue with local business around their needs.
Is there an existing building which can be used rather than building a new office?
Winslade House is being vacated by a finance firm and this is on the approaches to Clyst St Mary. We are in talks with the business regarding their plans and the likely employment impact. However their office is a Grade 2 listed building in the middle of a park. We are not sure we would want to swap an old non-listed building in need of repair for a listed one in need of repair as it would probably not be a cost effective solution. But we will explore all options.
While finance appears to be the key driver we would like to see more social and democratic involvement. Would you consider more information and involvement as early as possible in the process?
Yes we want to understand how best to keep people informed and engaged with the process.
We would like to see a clear analysis of the pros and cons of each of the options for a new HQ that is being explored and the opportunity for stakeholder to input into this process?
Evaluation and comparison of different options will be an important part of the next phase of the project.
What measures will EDDC undertake to make sure they take public opinion with them on this move to make sure it is successful, you need to engage with people not just inform?
We want to put as much information out there as possible and also for our Councillors to play their part in communication. We will run future stakeholder engagement to outline our progress.
Summing up Comment: Many people wanted to make the point that this is not all about Sidmouth it is about what is the best solution for the whole district.
Page last updated on 2 September 2014

East Devon District Council - Moving and Improving - Stakeholder Questions

See also:
Knowle relocation | East Devon Alliance

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