Thursday, 11 December 2014

Knowle relocation project: "People in Sidmouth simply do not trust the EDDC and their spurious calculations."

The Sid Vale Assn hosted a public meeting this week:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: Public Open Meeting in Sidmouth, Tuesday 9th December

Almost all of Sidmouth's District Councillors attended:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: "Councillors' Question Time": Public Open Meeting: Tuesday 9th December

The primary concern which was addressed was cost:
> renovation costs:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: What do you get for a £15m refurbishment? ... part one
> energy costs:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: Predicting energy price increases over the next 20 years
> relocation costs:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: "Initial findings found the cost of relocation to be prohibitive"

The View from Sidmouth has also looked at the issue of costs:
Taxpayers have coughed up £700,000 for district council move already - View from Sidmouth

The Herald notes the benefits for Exmouth - and the costs for Sidmouth - of the move:

The blog of independent Cllr Claire Wright carried a report - plus revealing comment:

Sidmouth public meeting: Anger and frustration at the mired EDDC office relocation project

Wednesday, 10 December 2014 2 Comments by Claire

Last night’s public meeting in Sidmouth at the Unitarian Church was packed out with people who are concerned and angry about EDDC’s hopelessly mired office relocation and local plan.

The meeting was called by the Sid Vale Association, which has long campaigned for scrapping the five hectares of industrial land at Sidford, which is an allocation in the draft local plan. It has also campaigned against selling off the Knowle and building on the beautiful parkland, which has public access.

Six Sidmouth councillors were present - Graham Troman, Sheila Kerridge, Peter Sullivan, Chris Wale, Frances Newth and Christine Drew.

The councillors (with the exception of Graham Troman, who expressed much concern) all defended the office relocation and said that it needed to happen.

Cllr Stuart Hughes couldn’t be there but sent an email to say he thought it was the wrong time to be pursuing such a plan at a time of probable local government change.

There was huge scepticism about the claimed cost of refurbishing the Knowle - £15m.

Members of the public were polite, very well informed and many were outraged by the shambolic manner of the project and how astonishingly expensive it has become.

Councillors will be voting on recommendations which will give the green light to pursue Exmouth Town Hall and Honiton Business Centre as locations for relocation, next Wednesday evening at full council. To achieve this will cost around £10m of works to the existing buildings.

The council also needs to borrow in the region of almost £5m to kickstart the relocation.

And let’s not forget that the council is STILL paying barristers to keep reports secret that the Information Commissioner ruled must be public. This has been going on for MONTHS.

Many of those present wanted the Sidmouth councillors to vote against the plans when they come before full council (Wednesday 17 December, 6.30pm).

East Devon Alliance’s perspective of the meeting is here - http://eastdevonalliance.org/2014/12/10/last-nights-meeting-with-sidmouth-district-councillors/

Photograph: Last night’s meeting.


1. At 10:14 am on 10th Dec Graham Cooper wrote:

The purpose built 1980s office at the Knowle is perfectly suitable for EDDC requirements and there is absolutely no need to relocate. 
All who attended last night’s meeting simply did not believe EDDC’s claim that the refurbishment would cost £15m and certainly upgrading the 1980’s building would cost a great deal less. 
People in Sidmouth simply do not trust the EDDC and their spurious calculations. 
Take the energy calculations as presented by Richard Cohen to the cabinet last week when he claimed the energy savings by moving will be £5.5m (inflated at 10% pa over 20 years. ) Even if the basic assumptions were correct, the compound total would be more like £3.3m. The DEC energy rating for the Knowle is already reasonable but can be improved with better management.

Sidmouth public meeting: Anger and frustration at the mired EDDC office relocation project - Claire Wright

The East Devon Alliance blog has provided extensive coverage:


December 10th, 2014

In a brave, but probably for some politically-suicidal gesture, six of Sidmouth’s seven district councillors met their electors last night at a public meeting organised by the Sid Vale Association to discuss their attitude to Office Relocation Project.
The packed, at times angry meeting in the Dissenters Chapel overran the planned one and a half hours. The key headlines for the evening:
• Councillors Drew, Kerridge, Newth, Sullivan, and Wale basically supported leaving the Knowle, despite protestations of regret, and parroted well-worn phrases, “not fit for purpose”. “too expensive to refurbish”, “people working in bathrooms”.
• Councillors Troman and Hughes oppose the move. Troman mentioning the disastrous loss of jobs; Hughes (in a statement, he was at a County meeting) saying it was the wrong time to be moving, and development of the Knowle site would add to Sidmouth’s flood risk.
• Despite having attended a morning briefing (from Richard Cohen?) most of the councillors seemed out of their depth with the technical details of the project. Christine Drew didn’t even realise a big chunk of the gardens had been offered to developers! Many of the audience were far better informed. Her remark early on in the meeting, that “You’re doing our job for us!” seemed rather ironical.
Stand out contributions from the floor came from:
• Richard Thurlow of Save our Sidmouth who demolished the Council’s figure of £5.5 million in energy saving as a result of the move.
• Richard Eley completed the job saying that Richard Cohen’s estimates of 10% annual energy prices increases over 20 years with 2% annual inflation were “rubbish”, and adding that EDDC’s embedded consultant Steve Pratten would end up costing taxpayers £1 million.
• Keith Northover (Knowle Drive Residents’ Association) pointed out that Robin Fuller’s detailed study in 2012 showed the viability of refurbishing the 1980’s purpose-built offices which could easily accommodate the fewer employees that will be needed.
• Mike Temple passionately condemned the possible destruction of one of the finest gardens in the county as the upper lawns had been included in the area to be developed (apparently by a unilateral decision of Richard Cohen).
• Michael Brittain said it was incedible EDDC felt they needed to move when their existing conditions were better than many hospitals enjoyed.
• Town councillor John Dyson pointed out-as did several others -that relocation would only start to save money after ten years but that the life expectancy of EDDC, because of inevitable local government reorganisation was likely to be less than five.
• John Rayson, who worked for many years at the Knwle, said the staff liked working there and didn’t want to move.

Sadly, it was clear that most of Sidmouth’s representatives were out of touch with their electors. As one frustrated resident shouted out “Start standing up for Sidmouth!”
Some predict a serious electoral cull in the town next Spring

5 thoughts on “Last night’s meeting with Sidmouth District Councillors”

Councillor Eileen Wragg says:
December 10, 2014 at 8:41 am

RC said at a public meeting in Exmouth, that the Elizabeth Hall was costing EDDC £170K p.a. to run. When I questioned the figure, as it was inaccurate, & said the question of competency comes to mind ( i.e. either his or whoever had supplied that figure,) I was taken to Standards! Nothing new about the accountancy there then!!

Peter Whitfield says:
December 10, 2014 at 9:05 am

I hope Phil Twiss doesn’t read this! That word “cull” again!

Tim says:
December 10, 2014 at 11:24 am

I recall a meeting at EDDC when one of the councillors mentioned above, it may have been Cllr Newth or perhaps Cllr Drew, spoke at length about the dangerous state of the building, all the hazards the staff had to content with, alarms going off etc, etc.
A Freedom of Information request, about the numbers of Health and Safety records of incidents, incidents, injuries false alarms etc etc came back saying there were no such records.
I cannot for one moment believe that if conditions were as atrocious as was alleged, that there would such a complete absence of formal record.
If I may pick up on Cllr Eileen Wragg’s comment about competence, may I remind people that I questioned Richard Cohen about the methodology of the Exmouth Consultation survey. He provided references that I checked against the Audit Commission (who had been quoted) and they disassociated themselves with his comments and pointed out that the survey quoted as a model, had long been abandoned. It is only relatively recently that EDDC have taken any steps to ensure that their surveys go someway towards having validity. The first, an attempt to regenerate the discredited East Devon Business Forum, actually went as far as recognising that only randomly selected respondents counted, that self-referring respondents were not a valid source of data.
As I pointed out at one EDDC meeting when I questioned the validity of the Exmouth survey, having checked out Cohen’s methodology, incompetence was but one of a few limited explanations.

Disappointed resident says:
December 10, 2014 at 2:47 pm

It’s all a bogus smoke screen. I used to work there. The old building could do with being sold on for more suitable housing flats. The new offices are perfectly fine. The only thing would be to put a mass of solar panels on the roof (and all the council-owned properties) to offset the heating and running costs. what qualifications does Mr Cohen have for being such an ‘expert’ in costings, by the way? from experience the only thing he does excel in, is being downright rude and dismissive to his employer (the taxpayer). He couldn’t effectively manage his way out of a paper bag.

Last night’s meeting with Sidmouth District Councillors | East Devon Alliance


December 10th, 2014

In a swingeing attack on EDDC Deputy Chief Executive and Head of the Relocation Project team, Richard Cohen, Sidmouth resident Richard Eley told last night’s Public Meeting, that he had no confidence in Mr Cohen because (we quote) he was:

“The man who moved the southern boundary of the Knowle to include the parkland without telling anybody and in contradiction to the specific instructions of the Development Management Committee (1). I was told this would not be investigated because the Inspector (2) would look at it, which he would not do because it was not within his remit. So this has never been investigated by anybody at the Knowle.”

“He did it without managing to record that process; without recording any conversation or without writing a single email, or keeping a single note or sending any kind of correspondence to any third party. Because I made a freedom of information request, and there was nothing there.”

“He did it unilaterally, on his own, secretly, and he didn’t tell a single soul, and I only found out by accident.”

And in another gross miscalculation, added Mr Eley, Richard Cohen had underestimated the size of the Knowle offices by 40%.

He concluded, “This is not the kind of person that I would trust to do these calculations. When he says, ‘It’s going to cost £15.5 million to refurbish (the Knowle)’. I would tell him, “That’s a load of rubbish!”

(1) editorial note: after the DMC had refused EDDC’s outline planning application for the Knowle in March 2013

(2) editorial note: at the public examination of the draft Local Plan, in February 2014.

Is Head of Knowle relocation scheme to be trusted? | East Devon Alliance


December 11th, 2014

Transcript of Richard Eley’s Speech at the Sid Vale Association Meeting at the Unitarian Church, 9th December 2014

(Richard Eley was speaking about Richard Cohen’s figures for relocation costs.)

“The numbers are completely, hopelessly and scandalously wrong. They are useless, they are terrible and have to be challenged vigorously and strenuously. These numbers are rubbish. They don’t include the green travel plan, they don’t include compensation for the staff, they don’t include the cost of the move itself, they don’t include the costs of hubs the other towns and, most importantly, they don’t include the cost of officer time and members time that is involved in all of this.

The expert, Mr Steve Pratten from Davis Langdon, he is going to cost £1million or more on his own. It doesn’t include the legal costs in all this. I say to the District Council that I have estimated the real costs to be £20 million. That figure was not disputed – Richard Cohen did not say it was exaggerated – he said he didn’t recognize the number. What that means is that I was bang on the money.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are trusting Richard Cohen to mastermind this whole process and we are assuming that he’s accurate in the mathematical calculations. This is the same man who measured the Knowle 40% smaller than it turned out to be! He got it wrong by 40%. Robin Fuller had to write a paper, he was rubbished in the press and it turned out that he was correct. The Knowle is 40% bigger than Richard Cohen thought it was.

This is the same man who was responsible for four attempts to compose the economic impact assessments rejected by his own planning committee. He can’t get simple mathematics right. This same man tells us that energy prices are going to go ahead for the next 20 years at 10% over inflation. He is alone in the entire world in thinking this. Nobody else believes that including your energy companies who will fix your energy costs for the next four years. That instantly takes £1.5million out of all the savings that are supposed to be made by moving, so he hasn’t even bothered to explore that possibility.

He is also the man who shifted the southern boundary of the Knowle to include the second tier of parkland without telling anybody and in contradiction to the specific instructions of the Development Management Committee. I was told this would not be investigated because the Inspector would look at it, which he would not do because it was not in his remit. So that has never been investigated by anybody at the Knowle.”

“He did it without managing to record that process; without managing to record any conversation with any individual, without writing a single email, or keeping a single note or sending any kind of correspondence to any third party. Because I made a freedom of information request, and there was nothing there.”

“He did it unilaterally, on his own, secretly, and he didn’t tell a single soul, and I only found out by accident.”

This is not the kind of person I would trust to do these calculations. Now when he says it is going to cost £15.9million to refurbish the Knowle, I would tell him that that’s a load of bunkum. This relates to the entire building, which nobody advocates retaining. Why is anybody working in a bathroom when the Knowle is two and a half times the size of the building EDDC says it needs? How can that be possible? Mr Cohen in his calculations also asserts that there is nil chance, not 1% chance of local government reform in the next 20 years.

Anybody who listened to the Autumn Statement knows that local government reform is highly likely and as John Dyson correctly said there is an 80% chance that EDDC will not exist in 5 years time, so the chances of us recovering all these millions over the next 20 years is much reduced.

Finally, he assumes that over the course of those 20 years with energy now costing astronomical amounts of money the average domestic bill according to Richard Cohen would be 30% of your income in energy costs. He assumes that the government, EDDC and none of the people working there will make any effort whatsoever to reduce the costs of energy in that time. They won’t switch off any lights, they won’t turn off any central heating and they will continue to occupy every single bathroom throughout that period despite the fact that there is going to be 140 less people working there, assuming they don’t go to Exmouth.”

Power and absolute power at EDDC | East Devon Alliance


December 11th, 2014

Sidmouth District and County Councillor, Stuart Hughes, was unable to attend the Public Open Meeting (Tuesday 9th Dec) organised by the Sid Vale Association (SVA). He did, however, send his view on relocation to SVA Chair, Alan Darrant, to be read out at the meeting. Here is Cllr Hughes’ statement:

‘I’m not sure that this is the time to be contemplating any move away from Sidmouth as the future of local government is already raising its head and I do believe we could well be looking at a two tier system becoming the norm with the parish/town councils taking on a greater role.

It was the hindsight of Ted Pinney when the Districts became into being that he secured the Knowle back in 1974 and when you really look deeply why this was such an excellent move, then you only have to look at its location at the centre of the coastal towns of Exmouth Budleigh and Seaton and a short distance from East Devons only Primary road the A3052 (this runs from one side of East Devon to the other) Clyst St Mary (just off M5) and the Dorset border (Lyme Regis).

If and it looks as though a move will given the go ahead then we must take the serious threat of further flooding and ensure that as part of any development that the Surface Water Management Plan recommendation for a SUDs storage at Knowle is tied in with any development.

Finally loss of jobs and we should be looking to retain some of the services here in Sidmouth if the move is agreed at Council …………… I have a suggestion that I feel should be explored and will elaborate more on that at the EDDC meeting next week.’

The Full Council will decide whether to agree a move FROM Knowle, at their meeting on 17th December, 6.30pm at Knowle (plenty of parking; set in lovely historic parkland; convenient access; energy rating certificate ‘C'; etc…)

The “excellent move” TO Knowle | East Devon Alliance

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