Saturday, 20 December 2014

Knowle relocation project: 'The EDDC Conservative group should have made the need to protect East Devon countryside and the need to deliver an adopted Local Plan its top priority. Instead it has put all its energy and a huge amount of financial resource into building itself new offices'

Following the public meeting with Sidmouth's District Councillors
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: "We only want what is best for Sidmouth."
Councillors get grilling over EDDC relocation - News - Sidmouth Herald
Knowle figures branded ‘scandalously wrong’ - News - Sidmouth Herald

... and within the context of doubts about the veracity of the statistics around the relocation project
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: "People in Sidmouth simply do not trust the EDDC and their spurious calculations."
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: saving energy costs - and challenging the justification to move

... the District Council met to consider its next steps:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: Wednesday 17th December: 6.30pm: full council to consider resolutions and recommendations passed by cabinet
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: "to be put on hold" .........? District Council meets Wednesday 17th December

Members concurred with the cabinet's recommendations, as this swiftly-published press release from the District Council demonstrates:
17 December 2014 - Relocation plans backed by full council - East Devon District Council

A detailed analysis of the evening's proceedings with regard to the Knowle relocation project and its aftermath starts with the first report from the East Devon Alliance blog:
Full Council votes for “full checks and balances” on relocation costs, which were going to happen anyway!! | East Devon Alliance
How come … | East Devon Alliance
Sidmouth Councillors, were you listening? | East Devon Alliance
Is the Leader listening? More questions put to him at Full Council | East Devon Alliance
Yet more questions for the Leader at Full Council (17 Dec 2014) | East Devon Alliance
2 thoughts on “What, more questions for the Leader? (Full Council, 17 Dec 2014)”
Rachel Perram says:
"It is my understanding that the employees have not had ‘Sidmouth’ as an option in consultation. Is this true?"
transparencyforeastdevon says:
Yes, we believe that was the case.

What, more questions for the Leader? (Full Council, 17 Dec 2014) | East Devon Alliance
3 thoughts on “EDDC’s relocation project….let’s take a close look”
Paul says:
I always think it helps if we re-calculate the costs in terms of individuals.
Assuming a £10m net cost to move and approximately 100k voters and 60k households, that is a cost of £100 per voter or £166 per household for the move.
To put this in context, the EDDC precept on my council tax bill is about that amount, so…
If it is so important to move, then shouldn’t we just ask voters to stump up double the normal EDDC precept on their council tax bill for 1 year? Then the costs and impacts of this move will be clear to every voter who can then decide how to vote in next year’s elections.
EDDC’s relocation project….let’s take a close look | East Devon Alliance
Government “special advisers” cheaper than EDDC! | East Devon Alliance
Advice from relocation advisors | East Devon Alliance

Here are some of the speeches from members of the public from the meeting:
Relocation has alarming “weaknesses in assumptions,planning and estimating” , says SOS | Save Our Sidmouth
EDDC’s Consultants advise refurbishment, for “a desirable, vibrant, efficient and profitable asset” | Save Our Sidmouth

This is the complete entry from independent Cllr Claire Wright's blog, including the latest comments:

EDDC office relocation project to plough on regardless - again!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014 15 Comments by Claire
East Devon District Council’s office relocation project will plough on regardless following this evening’s full council meeting, where my motion to defer the process was overwhelmingly defeated.
Instead the council voted through a proposal for scrutiny by the auditors - which the leader said would happen anyway.
Around 50 members of the public were present to hear the debate on the office relocation and Cllr Roger Giles motion on the scrutiny function at EDDC.
Cllr Graham Troman had also submitted an amendment to the cabinet recommendations to move closer to selling the Knowle and moving to Honiton and Exmouth. 
Cllr Troman’s proposal was to:
- bring the matter before the overview and scrutiny committee
- bring the matter before the audit and governance committee
- have the internal and external auditors examine the project detail
But after Cllr Troman put his amendment, Leader, Cllr Diviani, admitted that this was a process that was going to happen anyway!
This amendment was voted on very quickly and approved by the council.
I asked for clarification on procedure when I was called to speak, as it was new territory for me to have a competing amendment to a set of recommendations.
My amendment was:
Due to the: 
- rapidly escalating costs at a time of financial austerity 
- requirement to take out a loan of several million pounds to finance the project
- widespread public concern about the plans
- concern over the accuracy of the predictions concerning energy prices 
- high likelihood of local government reorganisation which would probably mean that a new HQ will be redundant
The chief executive told me local government reorganisation was too vague a target to hang the office relocation project on, so I amended it to “after the elections on 7 May.”
My subsequent speech was:
We are just over four months away from the district council elections.

Yet this council seems to be determined to pursue a project to sell off this building and spend millions on alternative accommodation, regardless of how much the bills are stacking up.
Local people have been kept in the dark about important facts.  Most decisions have been made behind closed doors. 
Requests to release minutes in a redacted form have been refused.
Even the Information Commissioner’s ruling to release key documents on the state of the Knowle, has been ignored – at a cost of over £75000 on legal fees alone – an unbudgeted figure. 
And unfortunately this battle is ongoing.  And EDDC blames the the Information Commissioner for it!
The council leader two weeks ago, invited a BBC radio presenter to tour the Knowle and see for himself its condition. An invitation denied to local people, who have been asking for see around the buildings for at least two years.
Back in 2012, we were told that the council would build new offices at Honiton, because it was a central location.
Then that reason was swept away when Skypark suddenly became the favoured option in February.
At the February full council meeting, deeply worried about the rising costs, the Independent group tried in vain to defer the decision to spend vast amounts of taxpayers’ money on negotiating to buy land at Skypark, that in itself cost almost £1m.
But we were shouted down. And voted down.
That seems a long time ago now. We are NOW told that the option of Skypark is unaffordable because the Knowle isn’t worth as much as was originally thought.
So instead, the council is now set to spend £10m on refurbishments and extensions to make suitable Exmouth Town Hall and Honiton Business Centre.
We will also have to borrow something in the region of £5m to fund the relocation project.
And of course we have spent something like £1million ALREADY on preparing to move.
We are told there won’t be any savings for 10 years!
Members of the public across East Devon are horrified and baffled at the enormous amount of money being spent on making other accommodation suitable for staff to inhabit at any time – let alone a time of financial austerity, when our libraries, youth centres and hospitals are at risk of closure.
The calculations on energy assumes that energy prices will rise by 10 per cent every year for 20 years. This is not credible and not in the least bit likely to happen. A government report released last week sets out a FAR lower energy price increase in the coming years.
So the methodology is wrong.
One of the key arguments to sell off the Knowle is that it is inefficient. Yet it carries a creditable C energy rating.  Exmouth Town Hall also holds a C-rating for energy. So why is Exmouth Town Hall viewed as more energy efficient than the Knowle?
We are told that £15m must be spent on the Knowle to bring it up to acceptable standards.  This newly announced figure astounded me and others that I have spoken to and the East Devon Alliance have undertaken some research.
They have found that this figure is £3m MORE than the extensive refurbishment of … A Castle!
- Yes, Castle Drogo, which is deemed by the National Trust as one of its largest ever restoration projects!
There is another complication. There is strong likelihood of local government reorganisation looming on the horizon.
Some final points
Why are we moving and spending a truly breathtaking sum of money on a risky move, at a time of such political uncertainty?
We are just FOUR months away from elections.
In May, there may be a different council, who may have different views on relocating and selling off Knowle.
Pushing ahead with this beleaguered project now is undemocratic and deeply unwise.  The political leadership of the council are behaving like ostriches. Dismissing any argument that is critical of the relocation.
If you vote in favour of the cabinet recommendations this evening, you will be committing the council to yet more money that will be flung down the drain on this unworthy project.

Please vote with your consciences this evening. Defer this project and let’s see what happens after the elections first.
......................................... ENDS ..................................................................
I didn’t make many notes this evening, but a smattering of memorable moments are below:
- Cllr Susie Bond highlighting the concern about the office relocation at her parish council meetings and being shouted down by the Conservatives, who were all apparently experts on the views of people in Susie’s own ward!
- Cllr Eileen Wragg suggesting that there was a near revolution in the district, and referring to the East Devon Alliance -http://www.eastdevonalliance.org 
- Leader, Paul Diviani, saying to me “you are making up figures, young lady,” to which there were groans from the public gallery. I thanked him for calling me young.
- Leader, Paul Diviani, getting riled about members of the public calling out and suggesting that they were naive and childish
- Leader, Paul Diviani, referring to the Knowle as a “dreadful old building.”
- Leader, Paul Diviani, telling members of the public that EDDC was “very good at getting the messages out to people,” to which I agreed and added that the trouble was it was on transmit and not receive.
-Leader, Paul Diviani, admitting that examination of the relocation project by the auditors proposed as a formal amendment by Cllr Troman, was going to happen anyway.
A proposal for a recorded vote was narrowly agreed so there will be a list of names with who voted which way. I lost overwhelmingly. It was supported by just seven votes to 39 against.
But this is a war of attrition and I won’t give up!
PS. I noted that Cllr Phil Twiss was uncharacteristically silent this evening.
1. At 10:45 pm on 17th Dec Sandra Semple wrote:
Many a slip twixt cup and lip.
2. At 12:54 am on 18th Dec Peter Burrows wrote:
Myself & Brenda Taylor voted for your motion .....no sellout
3. At 08:56 am on 18th Dec Claire Wright wrote:
So sorry Peter, I didn’t see.  And of course you spoke in favour of it too - thank you.
4. At 11:25 am on 18th Dec Paul wrote:
Quote: Leader, Paul Diviani, telling members of the public that EDDC was “very good at getting the messages out to people,” to which I agreed and added that the trouble was it was on transmit and not receive.
The problem is not only that they are on transmit and not receive, it is also that their transmissions are VERY selective so the public don’t get the whole picture from EDDC. Indeed, much information on the relocation is kept from Councillors so even they don;t get to see the whole picture.
P.S. You might like being called “young lady” by Paul Diviani (and of course most people are young by comparison to Mr Diviani), but personally I think it sounds extremely condescending and rude.
5. At 01:54 pm on 18th Dec Sandra Semple wrote:
Yes, I agree with Paul - it is insulting and patronising.
Try calling him “old man” (both words appropriate) next time you speak to him in public and watch him run (sorry, shuffle) to the Monitoring Officer!
6. At 05:18 pm on 18th Dec Robert Crick wrote:
Pete Seeger has a song about the leadership of EDDC. Waist Deep in the Big Muddy. You can hear him singing it athttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXnJVkEX8O4
7. At 06:08 pm on 18th Dec Chris Wilkins wrote:
Twiss is obviously still reeling from the backlash of ‘Cullgate’ but still no apology!
8. At 06:26 pm on 18th Dec Val Jones wrote:
Can someone explain to me please the situation at the Knowle because I find it very confusing.  As I understood it, the Knowle was “given” to the people of Sidmouth to use for their benefit. Certainly the grounds were for the benefit of the people to use for recreation.
Now we hear that the grounds are to be built on.
So can someone tell me whether or not the council bought or was given the Knowle. And this wouldn’t have been EDDC it would have been Sidmouth Urban District Council and Sidmouth Rural District Council. When did they buy it on what terms and how did EDDC become the occupiers.  I realise EDDC would have moved in at the re-location of local government when all the smaller councils became part of the larger EDDC. Did they take over all the council offices in the towns - Exmouth, Axminster, Seaton etc.
In other words - do they have the right to sell the Knowle and even more to the point do they have the right to build on the grounds.
9. At 08:05 pm on 18th Dec Chris wrote:
I regularly read your blog and get very depressed. So what should I do? I for one am prepared to stand as an independent in the next election. It would be very helpful if you could provide some guidance and advice. I think it is time the public stood up
10. At 08:17 pm on 18th Dec Sandra Semple wrote:
Smoke and mirrors.  Overview and Scrutiny asked to see figures in January 2014 - nothing.  Audit and Governance have already said that because an internal auditor sits in on meetings ( not exactly sure WHICH meetings) and he says all is ok then that is fine by them.
So what are the chances of these things coming before either of them (again) - precisely nil.
Not only were we being taken for fools, councillors were too!  Putting their hands up for things they have already bedn refused: priceless!
11. At 08:44 pm on 18th Dec Roger Giles wrote:
At the EDDC meeting on 17 December 3 members of the public and 3 councillors asked a series of questions in an attempt to reveal information about costs and other aspects of the office relocation project. Once again the Conservative leadership blocked requests to enable the public to know how much taxpayers` money has been spent on the project.
Later in the meeting the absolute determination to press on with the project, subject to some minor checks, became clear.
Questions were also asked at the meeting about the failure to deliver an adopted Local Plan and a five year housing land supply – thus putting many greenfield sites at the mercy of rapacious developers. This vitally important matter seemed of little concern to the Conservatives.
The EDDC Conservative group should have made the need to protect East Devon countryside and the need to deliver an adopted Local Plan its top priority.  Instead it has put all its energy and a huge amount of financial resource into building itself new offices.
The tragedy is that inappropriate developments have sprung up all over East Devon against the wishes of local people, contrary to local need, and often in the absence of local services and facilities, because of wrong Conservative priorities.
12. At 08:30 am on 19th Dec Tony Green wrote:
I now have evidence to show that my earlier suggestion that Cllr Graham Troman’s amendment at Wednesday’s Council Meeting was a Tory group “ploy” is incorrect. The idea was Graham’s own initiative, so apologies to him for the excessive scepticism.
But I remain sceptical that his proposal for a “thorough investigation” of relocation costs will have any effect.  Sidmouth councillors should have voted for the whole disastrous project to be put on hold.
13. At 10:59 am on 19th Dec Claire Wright wrote:
Hi Chris, that’s great news!  I am putting you in touch with Ben Ingham who is the leader of the Independents at EDDC, who will be delighted to hear from you. His email address is bingham@eastdevon.gov.uk - Anyone else who would like to stand as an Independent next May should also get in touch with Ben. This is the best chance we have of creating a more balanced council. Currently there are 59 councillors on EDDC. Out of those, 42 are Conservative.  You can see the problem….
14. At 11:16 am on 19th Dec Paul wrote:
Or to paraphrase the film Star Trek First Contact: “Population 42. All Borg.”
15. At 12:12 am on 20th Dec Chris Wilkins wrote:
According to Douglas Adams ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42. Make of that what you will!
EDDC office relocation project to plough on regardless - again! - Claire Wright

For an alternative look on affairs:
EastDevon Tories (@EastDevonTories) | Twitter

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