Saturday, 22 March 2014

Knowle relocation project: latest

Following the full Council meeting of 26th February:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: District Council vote to spend £1million on Skypark: press reports
the press reported extensively on the meeting:
Council unrest over SkyPark HQ decision - News - Sidmouth Herald
Councillors back SkyPark move - News - Devon 24
East Devon district councillors back office relocation to SkyPark near Exeter | Exeter Express and Echo

A question followed on the SOS news blog:

Who speaks for Sidmouth and the Sid Valley?

February 27, 2014 by sidmouthsid 3 Comments

Who on EDDC represents Sidmouth and the Sid Valley?

At last night’s shameful council meeting it seemed to be all down to Cllr Graham Troman. He was the only local councillor to speak up for fuller information on relocation costs. And the only one to vote for a motion to pause the headlong rush to relocate to Skypark, pending another survey of the existing Knowle offices.

Who speaks for Sidmouth and the Sid Valley? | Save Our Sidmouth

Subsequently, questions were asked at the Town Council:

Councillor quartet bid to justify move to SkyPark

Stefan Gordon Saturday, March 8, 2014

FOUR of Sidmouth’s seven district councillors have voiced a united verdict over the authority’s controversial move to SkyPark.

Councillors Peter Sullivan, Frances Newth, Christine Drew and Chris Wale issued a joint response after being asked to say why they believe the mooted relocation is in the best interests of residents and traders.

The poser was issued by their town council colleague Kelvin Dent, who wanted to know the members’ thoughts on the impact on Sidmouth’s economy and delivery of services. The quartet of councillors, who stressed a final decision on the relocation has not been made, said in a statement: “Where the district council operates is a matter for the district council.”

They added that officers and staff who live in Sidmouth are ‘unlikely to move and will still maintain their current spending pattern in the town’.

“Many EDDC staff members do not live in Sidmouth and their spending pattern is clearly different in Honiton, Seaton, Axminster and Exeter where they do,” said the councillors.

“There is comparatively little ‘footfall’ between EDDC staff at Knowle and the town centre during working hours and very little economic activity providing benefit to Sidmouth from the sandwich and ice cream trade. A new development at Knowle will bring in an additional and probably new set of people to the town - as was the case when the homes in Knowle Drive were built in the grounds of Knowle, and where Cllr Dent lives - to spend some of their cash locally.

“We do question how EDDC’s moving is a complete disadvantage given that Skinners, Bagwells and Fords provide services to EDDC across the district and will continue to do so with no loss of employment or local spend in the Sidmouth economy. New homes at Knowle will be an economic benefit to Sidmouth given the likely development type that will take place there. This makes room for a good ‘trade-off’.

“EDDC will also have a ‘touch pad’ in all major towns…in addition to mobile working where the staff get to people who can’t get to them to deliver services.”

They added that all residents will also be given access to the council through its website, by telephone, visits by staff ‘so no one will be disadvantaged wherever EDDC’s future location may be’.

Cllr Stuart Hughes did not sign the statement as he is ‘totally against’ any move from Knowle. He said there will be a ‘detrimental effect’ on Sidmouth that will impact on the town’s economy, adding: “East Devon’s consultants will tell a different story – but they will always tell you what you want to hear.” Mr Hughes added that he had spoken to staff and he ‘hasn’t found one who wants to move’.

The question was put to the district representatives who also sit on Sidmouth Town Council.

Councillor quartet bid to justify move to SkyPark - News - Devon 24

With a pertinent commentary from the SIN news blog:
Quartet; about a bunch of old people who are past their best and finding it hard to cope with the real world | Sidmouth Independent News

There have been letters in the press:

Council clashes

Saturday, March 15, 2014 

The position where we are told not only that our HQ will move, but move to SkyPark, all on the basis of nodded through minutes from parts of cabinet meetings from which press and public were excluded. So, I was surprised when, at the close of the council meeting on February 26, a small group of us were approached by a senior Conservative councillor which gave rise to my email to him next morning as follows.

“After last night’s meeting you asked a few of us, in a rather pained way, why we booed ‘the Conservative group’. The fact that most of those booed etc were members of that particular political group is immaterial – most of us at national level are probably Conservative supporters. It was what individual councillors were saying – and in some cases the way they were saying it – that provoked that reaction. It does seem rather odd that all the members of that group who are there to represent the disparate interests of the seven urban areas and all the rural wards can find no reason to challenge any of the points made by their fellow Conservatives on last night’s key issue of relocation, but seize every opportunity to mount personal attacks on any other members who happen to disagree with what the majority party want to do. One even referred to “the opposition” as though having a different point of view on an issue was to be regretted!”

He replied thus:- “I expressed my concern on the night as I felt the public gallery as a whole were disruptive and due to my close proximity to the gallery it drowned out a lot of my hearing of events. I further added that whilst the Conservative members were the target of the jeering we should be afforded the courtesy to voice our opinion as indeed the public were allowed their opportunity to speak to express their opposing opinion. The truth of the matter is that such exchanges at council meetings are frankly destructive and therefore wasteful of valuable time.”

Which leads me to conclude that this reflects the total lack of understanding typical of councillors who have been there too long. They were ‘afforded the courtesy to voice their opinion’. It was the opinions they voiced and the personal attacks on non-Conservative councillors that provoked the reaction. Apparently showing disagreement equates to wasting councillors’ valuable time!

Peter Whitfield, Manor Road, Sidmouth

And more letters:
‘Restore Knowle as hotel when EDDC leaves’, say critics - News - Sidmouth Herald
Minority retort - Letters - Sidmouth Herald
Knowle options? - Letters - Sidmouth Herald

There have been questions about the availability of transport links to the proposed site at Skypark:
Exeter bus strategy and Skypark | Sidmouth Independent News
A new bus service via Skypark would cost £100,000 a year | East Devon Alliance
Lack of East Devon HQ bus service is ‘ludicrous’ | Exeter Express and Echo

The SIN news blog has questioned the amount of transparency in the whole process:
Too transparent, Mr Diviani, too transparent! | Sidmouth Independent News

At the public examination of the draft local plan, the Inspector considered Knowle and the question of if it is 'suitable for the development for which it is proposed':

At the Local Plan Inspections, SOS legal representative Charlie Hopkins pointed out the EDDC had refused to allow the inspector to see the valuation report on the Knowle, on the grounds of 'commercial confidentiality'!
Knowle evidence at Inspector’s disposal is inadequate, says SOS legal representative | Save Our Sidmouth

A complaint has been sent to the Information Commissioner's Office following the District Council's refusal to publish the full minutes of the Relocation Working Parties. The ICO has replied saying that whilst the Davis Langdon reports must be published, the minutes need not - because the original request of 27th November 2012 was made when "no formal decision had been made".
Unredacted MInutes and Reports of Relocation Working Parties - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow

However, following the full Council meeting on 26th February, it is now clear that a 'formal decision' has been made. 
Indeed, the Cabinet decided unanimously on 17th July last year to move from Knowle:

that a future recommendation be made for consideration by Cabinet and determination by Council that EDDC relocate from the Knowle to a new location and premises subject to a satisfactory and financially viable proposition.
BYE BYE Sidmouth! | Sidmouth Independent News

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