Friday, 20 September 2013

Knowle: The view from Save Our Sidmouth

This letter appeared in its entirity in today's Herald:

“The Inconvenient Truth about Knowle Move”

East Devon District Council, (EDDC), have an "ambition" to move from the Knowle, because they say the existing buildings are "unfit for purpose". They want a new building elsewhere which is more economic to run and just over half the size of the existing Knowle buildings.
EDDC's reasons for the move are:
> A reduction in operating costs of some £240,000 per year over 20 years , (£4.8m)
> More flexible, open plan offices, with efficient modern working practices.
> A reduction in CO2  of 5200 tonnes of carbon over 20 years.
Earlier this year they applied for Planning Permission to develop much of the Knowle, including Parkland, Car Parks and Gardens, in the face of much public opposition.  
EDDC admitted  that the effects on Sidmouth would be;-
> Loss of over 90 jobs to Sidmouth
> Possible loss of £3.5m pa in contracts awarded to firms in the town
> Loss of nearly £1m in income to Sidmouth provided by the 380+ employees.
> Transfer of nearly 80 Sidmouth based jobs elsewhere
Due to errors in the planning application, they had to submit it four times. They spent over £300,000 on this exercise plus the cost of technical employees’ time, which they assert they cannot cost. We estimate the total cost of that exercise as being well over £500,000.... of public money
Fortunately, the strength of feeling in the town, our opposition, and EDDC's own Planning Committee led to the rejection of the  proposal.
But EDDC still believe that they need to move and have  prepared further reports and papers to justify it. Much of the earlier work, costing over £500,000  has not been reused.  As a result they decided  at a meeting in  July, to vacate the Knowle, and will use the remainder of the year to determine where and when to relocate.
To fund the move, EDDC proposes that a Developer be appointed to build the new office and develop the Knowle buildings and the Manstone depot   for 70 houses. Despite earlier assurances that the move would be " cost neutral" to the Taxpayers, ( but not to Sidmouth), EDDC say they may now borrow up to £4.8m to fund it, (the costs to be recovered over 20 years of savings from the move!).
We believe that;-
> the move is unnecessary as they could renovate the newer buildings on the site, the area of which is nearly  the area they require. They could fund this by selling off the old Victorian buildings for housing.
> they have both selectively used and interpreted data which supports their case, and have repeatedly ignored factual data which counters their argument.
> they have based  their case on fundamentally flawed information.
> They use opinion and emotion when facts and statistics are needed.
The major flaws are;-
> They have made a mistake in calculating the size of their existing "newer" offices at the Knowle, (built by themselves in the 1970s/1980s), leading to the view that it is not large enough for their needs. In fact it  is nearly sufficient for the size they say they need in a new location.
> Their estimate of the costs needed to bring the Knowle up to reasonable standards is over £15.2m, but this includes the large old Victorian building which is 60% of the total and which is not needed. (It should be noted that in July last year the estimate  was £12.96m!... so much for EDDC cost estimating!)
> They have never costed in detail the work needed to bring these "newer" offices up to modern standards.
> They estimate that they would need to spend some £1.5m to rectify deficiencies in all the existing buildings but this is only needed now because as EDDC admit  THEY HAVE NOT CARRIED  OUT PLANNED MAINTENANCE FOR YEARS.
> They justify their estimate of savings of operating costs by comparing those of a new office  against the operating costs of the whole of the existing Knowle buildings. If they were to refurbish the "newer" buildings at the Knowle to modern standards, these "savings" would largely disappear.
> Carbon savings have been assessed on only the new building's operation. A Government paper states that it will take 50 years for a new building to recover the costs in carbon release of a new build. EDDC have ignored this inconvenient truth.
> They have ignored the costs of staff time and the planning and implementation of the move.
> Many of the risks EDDC say are associated with the relocation, they list as HIGH.. but most importantly, they have omitted one of the major risks, that of increased unforeseen construction costs; a significant risk
> There is no evidence of any cost-benefit analysis that assesses the impacts on their employees, Sidmouth residents and businesses and more widely on all of East Devon
> None of the possible locations for a new building are as central to the population of the District as is Sidmouth
ALL these flaws and omissions point to the preparation of a project which is founded in emotion rather than reality and facts. We agree that the existing Victorian office is outmoded and not as efficient as is needed, but we do not believe that  EDDC have examined in any detail the retention, refurbishment and modest expansion of the newer parts of their  offices, which we believe is a viable option.
EDDC are still pursuing this move with a single-minded enthusiasm seldom seen in projects of more general benefit to taxpayers. They show a determination to win the argument regardless of the many facts which undermine it.
In this time of economic difficulty , how can EDDC even contemplate borrowing over £4m to spend on a new office, whose recovery rate, even if ALL their predictions are correct, will be over the next 20 years?
We do hope that the project, if it does unfortunately go ahead against all rationality, does not become the disaster we fear. We, the residents of East Devon, would pay for it for years to come.

Richard Thurlow
Save Our Sidmouth

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See also the original research from Robin Fuller:
Cost of making Knowle offices fit for purpose…EDDC’s figures challenged | Save Our Sidmouth

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