Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: deciding to sell >>> Cabinet: Wednesday 11th March >>> report from Cabinet member Cllr Ian Thomas
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: deciding to sell >>> Audit and Scrutiny combined Cttees: Thursday 12th March >>> reports
Several points were covered, including:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: 'a covenant is proposed to ensure that the remaining surrounding parkland is not built on'
The latest Express & Echo has covered the story:
Plan to relocate East Devon Council offices moving ahead
By Exeter Express and Echo | Posted: March 19, 2015
EAST Devon District Council is getting ready to press ahead with its relocation plans from Sidmouth to Exmouth and Honiton amid concerns residents have only been given a “superficial” explanation of the financial argument for moving.
In order to save money, the council resolved to relocate from its aging Sidmouth offices to SkyPark near Exeter, but in November announced a U-turn on its plans and instead backed a revised plan to move to Honiton and Exmouth.
The council has decided to sell 1.8 hectares of land at Knowle, including the area currently occupied by buildings and asphalt car parks, plus 14 per cent of the remaining parkland including the upper terraces, to retirement homes developer Pegasus Life Ltd for around £8m.
This month, at a joint meeting of the Audit and Governance and Overview and Scrutiny committees, members voted in favour of the sale of the council’s headquarters and recommended approval for its relocation.
Their backing is subject to a condition that as part of the negotiations with Sidmouth Town Council, a covenant is proposed to ensure that the remaining surrounding parkland is not built on and remains as public space. Committee members also considered the findings of reports into the “relocation financial model calculations and assumptions”, by Andrew Ellins, audit manager of the South West Audit Partnership, and by external auditors Grant Thornton. In December, the full council voted for the committee to “thoroughly investigate” all the data relating to the relocation project.
The external auditors’ report backed the council’s research that the most cost-effective option is to refurbish Exmouth Town Hall and build a new office at Honiton Heathpark, rather than to stay put at Knowle and modernise the existing offices.
Over 20 years council officials claim it will be £2.8m better off if it relocates, compared with being £3.9m worse off by staying. In addition to the funds generated from the sale of its existing headquarters, the council would need to borrow £2.1m over 20 years.
But, addressing councillors at the meeting, Richard Thurlow, the chairman of the Save Our Sidmouth campaign group criticised calculations the council has based its decision to relocate on, while branding the information that has been divulged on the costings as “superficial”.
While praising the reputation of the auditors, he criticised the external audit for not examining the option of staying put in the more modern offices at Knowle combined with a move to Exmouth. He said: “The public have not been permitted to have anything other than a superficial view of the costings which make up the attempt to persuade that relocation is cost neutral.
“Councillors and the public have to take the results as presented without understanding or knowing the processes involved, or appreciating the range of sensitivity of the output.”
At an extraordinary meeting of the full council on Wednesday, March 25, which is not open to the public, members will convene to make a final decision on the relocation. The decision will be made two days before the outcome of a tribunal which examined whether the council should reveal details about its decision to relocate.
Plan to relocate East Devon Council offices moving ahead | Exeter Express and Echo