Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Knowle relocation project: FOI request goes to tribunal

Following the District Council's appeal against the Information Commissioner's decision that the report on Knowle should be published:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: further FOI requests

... a date has now been set for the Tribunal in Exeter:
Date agreed for East Devon District Council HQ move tribunal | Exeter Express and Echo
Date for court hearing on Knowle secrecy set – 28 August 2014 at Exeter Magistrates Court at 10 am | East Devon Alliance
Court to hear Knowle case - News - Sidmouth Herald

The District Council is sure about its relocation project:
“Relocation….meets the needs of our residents and businesses in an accessible, cost effective and joined up way”, declares EDDC Leader | Save Our Sidmouth

... and has reiterated its plans to market the site:
Council to move forward with Knowle relocation - View from Sidmouth

However, it seems that the District Council is not clear about the nature of the report on the state of the buildings at Knowle...
Here are details from the EDA website:
EDDC – Knowle relocation secrecy – important update | East Devon Alliance

The Information Commissioner has made it clear that the District Council should make public the report on the state of the Knowle buildings – because they say it was produced by external, independent consultants - and yet the District Council has insisted it was an internal matter to help them with their own deliberations and so should not be published:
Knowle relocation dispute is to go before a tribunal - View from Sidmouth

Here are relevant paragraphs from the ICO's report:

22: With regard to the reports, the Commissioner asked EDDC further 
questions to establish who produced the reports and how they were 
distributed. After viewing a sample of the reports the Commissioner 
noted that they appeared to have been produced by an external 
company, Davis Langdon, for EDDC. EDDC explained that Davis Langdon 
provide project management on the relocation project and the author of
the reports has been seconded by Davis Langdon to undertake the role 
of Relocation Project Manager for EDDC. 

25:                                                    ... the Commissioner is of the 
view that the report looks like a product of Davis Langdon and is 
authorised by a third party to EDDC. As such he does not consider that 
these project reports can be seen to be ‘internal’ communications...


Interestingly, in February the District Council itself declared that this same report was 'independent'.

The Overview and Scrutiny Committee had requested that a new report be commissioned on Knowle and the costs of relocation – that the commissioning process be totally independent of the political leadership of the Council. However, the Council Cabinet insisted that this was not necessary, as Davis Langdon had already provided an ‘independent’ study:

EDDC relocation to go ahead without delay

12th February 2014 by Anders Larsson

A RECOMMENDATION from within will not stop or delay East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) relocation process.

EDDC’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee met on January 30th and decided to recommend to EDDC’s Cabinet that a professional and independent survey of Knowle be carried out.

In July last year, both Cabinet and Full Council voted to actively seek a new location for EDDC’s headquarters.

One reason given was that Knowle was unfit for purpose and it would cost too much to bring it up to scratch.

But some councillors and other objectors to the relocation are questioning the report that declared Knowle unfit and too expensive to fix.

The report, dated June 2013 and made by a company named Davis Langdon, summarised: “The total approximate cost for the carrying out of ‘essential priority’ works at March 2013 to halt and rectify building detoriation, remedy health and safety issues and reduce energy consumption is £1,566,000.

“It is estimated that if no essential works were carried out, and the Knowle site was to remain in the state of repair which it is in today, running costs at March 2015 would be £458,170 with energy costs £83,901 producing 401 tonnes of CO2.”

The Overview and Scrutiny Committee acts like an internal watchdog, and issues reports and recommendations to both Cabinet and Full Council.

It also monitors the decisions of the Cabinet and can call in a decision which has been made by Cabinet – but only if it has not yet implemented.

The committee’s recommendation to commission a professional and independent report was brought up during the media briefing on February 6th.

But councillors and officers present said the report which declared Knowle unfit was, indeed, independent and professional.

The recommendation to commission a new report will appear on a future Cabinet agenda, but the councillors and officers at the media briefing stressed that the decision to relocate has been made.

In other words, the decision to relocate has been implemented and the relocation process will go ahead without delay.

Campaign group East Devon Alliance (EDA), which is against the relocation, said that the announcement to go to Skypark was “in clear defiance of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s vote”.

An EDA spokesperson added: “Democracy flies out of the window.”

EDDC relocation to go ahead without delay - View from Sidmouth

Here is a comment on independent Councillor Claire Wright's blog:

1. At 09:52 pm on 15th Jul Conrad Black wrote:

It seems that the EDDC has been caught trying to claim it is independently advised but that any advice they may (or, for the sake of argument may not have been given) is internal and may not be subject to scrutiny.

It feels rather like their externally provided report that was claimed proved that moving the Knowle would make no economic difference to Sidmouth - except for the fact that in almost every aspect it was shown to be flawed and unsound - but was suddenly made fact because it was approved by the EDDC. I might have risked suggesting that was breath-taking arrogance, but it might well appear to some that EDDC senior management, whether elected or otherwise, consider themselves above and beyond criticism. In the matter of the Village Green application the Inspector appeared to have gone out of his way to state in his public report that he did not give credence to the testimony of the EDDC witnesses.

Small wonder indeed that EDDC may be held in such low esteem by so many. You might think that even the smallest opportunity to replace the current administration would be seized upon by an otherwise marginalised and ignored electorate. And if reports elsewhere are correct, it seems that EDDC is also failing to engage what electorate there might be. Is it possible that the current administration would benefit by not having new voters come onto the scene. Presumably the EDDC will be making a major campaign to improve voter registration before the next elections or would that be presumptuous?

EDDC office relocation goes to tribunal - Claire Wright

Here is a helpful guide from the East Devon Alliance on the Tribunal system:
What is a First Tier Tribunal? | East Devon Alliance

Meanwhile, this is a consideration of the issue of whether or not the District Council have 'decided' to relocate or not:
East Devon resident’s battle for transparency on office relocation project - Claire Wright

... with the opinion of the District Council set out here (correspondence of 2nd April):

... and a further FOI request to see the unredacted minutes here:

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