Wednesday, 11 June 2014

“We are determined to fight on”: SOS update part 1: Knowle

Earlier today, the chair of the Save Our Sidmouth group issued a statement looking at how things stand from the SOS perspective:
SOS Update: “We are determined to fight on”. | Save Our Sidmouth

This is the first part, including a look at the financing of the group's campaigns to date - plus a look at the issues around the District Council's relocation project: 

SOS Update: “We are determined to fight on”.

June 10, 2014 by sidmouthsid 1 Comment

Many thanks to all contributors to the Save our Sidmouth/ Sidbury / Sidford campaign ! 

Strong teamwork, backed by generous contributions from the public and from the Sid Vale Association, have enabled a vigorous opposition to EDDC’s damaging plans.

Chair of Save Our Sidmouth, Richard Thurlow, has today issued this comprehensive report:

Residents and visitors can be reassured that we are still active and continuing our campaign against the depredations proposed by East Devon District Council in the Sid Vale, in connection with the Knowle and the Local Plan.

SOS has benefited from widespread public support for the campaign, in response to our posters, writing of letters, attending public meetings, demonstrations, and District Council meetings. Following the March on the Knowle in November 2012, (in which over 4,000 people took part), the public contributed over £13,000 towards a fighting fund. This sum was matched by the Sid Vale Association (SVA). As the cost of employing professional support and publicity has increased, the SVA has spent an additional £5,000, bringing the total cost to over £32,000. The income and expenditure have been independently audited (as published in the SVA’s Spring newsletter).

SOS has paid for a professional planning advocate who prepared rebuttals of EDDC’s case, both on the Knowle and the Local Plan. These were summarised on our website http://www.saveoursidmouth.com and helped to inform the several thousand comments submitted by the public. Our consultant attended the Public Examination of the Local Plan and forcefully argued our case.

Below is a summary of the activities of the SOS coalition since 2012 and the current situation.

1. EDDC HQ at the Knowle, Sidmouth

EDDC are proposing to sell their HQ at the Knowle and relocate to a new building elsewhere. They say this is because
• the existing building is not ”fit for purpose”, (without defining what this is),
• it costs too much to run
• it is too large for their needs
• they want to be more accessible to the public (but they are proposing a site at the extreme west of the District)
• they want to take advantage of “modern methods of working”
this will lead to financial savings for taxpayers of £4.8m over the next 20 years

They now say that they want to move to Skypark in the extreme west of the district, rather than Honiton, which was earlier put forward as being the most central location for the public and staff.

EDDC have refused to give any estimate for the costs of the new building, either to the public or to EDDC councillors outside the Cabinet of close associates of the Leader of the Council, but they say that there will be no cost to taxpayers . They state that they will raise the sums necessary by;-
• selling an existing EDDC business site in Honiton to a supermarket
• selling the Knowle to a developer to build houses
• selling the Manstone Depot (in Sidmouth) for housing

They have just allocated a further £205,000, bringing the total to £705,000 of tax payers’ money, for further studies, plus £1m for costs of the land.

SOS believes
• that the whole exercise is a vanity project promoted by a select group of councillors, and totally unjustified in these difficult times
• that the modern part of the existing building is nearly sufficient for their declared needs, (based on EDDC’s own stated requirements)
• that they could refurbish and slightly enlarge the existing modern office at a far less cost than transferring completely to a more remote location
• that the “old” part of their HQ could be refurbished as apartments, raising sufficient money to enable them to update the existing building

EDDC have refused to consider our proposals in detail or to allow an independent inspection of the buildings. They ignore the facts that any move will
• force over 100 Sidmouth based EDDC employees to travel much further to work
• mean the majority of the remaining 200 staff will be very badly affected
• mean that because of the intended re-location to the extreme west of the District, East Devon residents employed at EDDC will gradually be replaced by people from outside the District
• lead to the loss of well over £1m per annum income to Sidmouth
• contravene their own planning rules relating to the reduction of employment in urban areas

Initially EDDC proposed new housing on the site and in the surrounding gardens and parkland, destroying a very attractive feature in the town centre. We objected strongly to this on economic costs and landscape grounds. Despite this, EDDC spent several hundred thousand pounds of taxpayers’ money preparing and promoting their Planning Application. We found many faults with the supporting documents, which necessitated further revised applications to correct these factual errors. We objected strongly to the final application.

The EDDC Planning Committee, to their credit, rejected the proposals.

However EDDC are still pursuing their relocation proposals, slightly reducing their land take of the gardens, and proposing that a developer take over the preparation of the Planning Application.

It would be difficult to identify a more flagrant waste of public money in these difficult times, with cutbacks in all services. We expect further activities in the coming few months, all of which we will oppose strongly.

SOS Update: “We are determined to fight on”. | Save Our Sidmouth

For an overview of the issues, see:
Sid Valley | East Devon Alliance

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