Friday, 12 July 2013

Knowle: moving and improving

This is the latest from the District Council's webpages on Knowle: 
Options for the future of East Devon District Council’s offices will be debated on Wednesday 17 July.
EDDC’s Cabinet will consider a report outlining all the options available to the Council, which include staying at Knowle with reconfigured or rebuilt offices or moving to an alternative location.
The Council is working to a set of principles that:
  • any move to new offices would place no extra burden on taxpayers
  • any new buildings will be flexible, fit for purpose and meet the highest energy efficiency standards
  • any new offices will be located where customers can have easy access and that the Council will develop its ways of working at the same time to make services easier to access
  • any new office space will maximise the use of space and technology for the benefit of customers and the productive working of staff and councillors.
The full report is now viewable.
Officers are recommending that Knowle options are not pursued further because of the high costs of maintenance, refurbishment or a new building on the site and instead to formally explore new sites with a particular focus on opportunities in Honiton or Cranbrook.
In addition, the report asks councillors to confirm the objective of handing over the Knowle Park public space to Sidmouth Town Council as part of any relocation plan.
EDDC are also planning to set up a district-wide Stakeholder Group to share and discuss the relocation. The special stakeholder meeting on 26 July could be the first step towards setting up this new group.
High costs of present offices
The evidence presented to councillors will show that over £1.5M needs spending on the current Knowle buildings for essential repairs however, even if this is spent, the running costs of the buildings will be high. This is most clearly illustrated by this infographic:

infographic_2.jpg (3508×2481)
New offices would allow the council to significantly reduce its running costs by having an energy efficient building, which provides flexible and functional accommodation suitable for delivering council services in the 21st century.
In addition, new ways of working would allow the council to have more of its staff mobile and out in the district wherever any future headquarters was located. The Council is also clear in its commitment to retaining a significant office presence in Exmouth and making ourselves available in our other towns as well.
The report notes that the majority of the council’s customers do not visit in person but instead choose to deal with the council by phone, email or online. Any new offices would be accompanied by an expansion of the number of services that would be available by these methods.
Potential sites for new offices
Two sites being looked at in Honiton are a site on Church Hill and the Council’s own Heathpark site. Church Hill has the advantages of being a well connected, central location but it is currently in use. Heathpark is a simpler proposition because it is already owned by the Council although it is not especially central.  Any move to Heathpark would see new offices being located next to the existing business centre.
Cranbrook was originally ruled out because it seemed unlikely that the town would be developed enough when a move might be anticipated. However, with Cranbrook High Street moving forward apace and a revised timetable for any Knowle move following the delays over recent months, it is now considered worth exploring.
Cranbrook sites are on the high street and have good connectivity by bus, rail and road although it is in the western part of the district which means that the Council will also have to be mobile and available across our towns.  
Other sites may also come forward in future and the Council will consider these as well.
Options for the Knowle
A number of options for Knowle have been considered. The “do nothing” option would see over £1.5M needing to be spent on essential repairs to the current buildings and the continued drain on council finances from buildings which are very expensive to run, energy inefficient and inadequate for running modern services.
The Council also looked at three other options.
Option 1 would retain the Victorian building, spending large sums to bring it up to modern standards and sharing some of the space with residential development, demolishing the newer office blocks for car parking and building homes on the former upper car park and Manstone Depot sites.
Option 2 would be to build new offices and car parks on the site of the current offices and homes on the other two sites.
Option 3 would be to build new offices on the upper car park, using an extended lower car park for parking and build homes on the site of the Victorian building and the depot site.
However, sharing the site with the Council offices and associated traffic is unlikely to be attractive to any residential developer and therefore any cash realised from such an approach would fall far short of what is required by the Council to stick to its commitment not to add a burden to taxpayers.
Planning issues
The Council has just proposed minor changes to its draft Local Plan, which will be considered on Thursday 18 July. These would include changes to the originally proposed development boundary of Knowle. These are illustrated on PDF file this map (2445KB Portable Document Format - 11 July 2013 - PDF Help) and PDF file this aerial photo (683KB Portable Document Format - 11 July 2013 - PDF Help).
Under this scenario, if the Council were to move from Knowle to new premises, it would seek to sell the Knowle site and Manstone depot to achieve the best financial outcome and deliver over 40% of any development as affordable homes.
This approach balances a significant housing delivery of both private and affordable homes for Sidmouth and provides enough money to fund the relocation.
Next steps
If the Cabinet accept the officers' recommendations, the next step will be to do further work on investigating the alternative sites and bring a detailed report on negotiations around those options back to Cabinet and Full Council.
Page last updated on 11 July 2013

East Devon District Council - Moving and Improving

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