Saturday, 3 January 2015

Knowle relocation project: "If Knowle is not fit for purpose, do they really think that Exmouth Town Hall is?"

It has long been alleged that Knowle is 'not fit for purpose'.

In the Council’s “Corporate Asset Management Plan 2009-2012”, it said:

“Appendix 4: Knowle Office Review (page 28):
1.0 It has been recognised for some time that the office accommodation at the Knowle, Sidmouth is unsuitable for the running of an efficient modern authority. The existing building is wasteful on space, inaccessible, not energy efficient, and the layout makes it difficult to organise the workforce thereby discouraging corporate working.”

Corporate Property Asset Management Plan 2009 - 2012

The 'energy efficiency' figures have already been seriously questioned:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: saving energy costs - and challenging the justification to move
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: "How efficiently is this building being used?"
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: Predicting energy price increases over the next 20 years
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project ... the Committee on Climate Change predicts an increase in energy bills over the next 15 years of 30-45% ... the District Council predicts an increase of 400%
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: reducing carbon emissions

But what has not been debated is the notion of 'bad use of space'.

Much of the 'evidence' for Knowle being 'unfit for purpose' is hearsay - as in the Agenda Item 19: Cabinet dated 7th September 2011, which stated:

“1.6 The press coverage since the Cabinet meeting held in July has, to date, been mainly neutral or positive. 

Pulmans interviewed a number of Councillors who were in favour of the project and Archant have interviewed members of the public in the street, where the response was largely positive. Two examples are attached at Appendix Two. 
In addition it is understood that the staff have been relatively happy with the way that they have been informed of the commitment to relocation through forums such as News & Views and the Chief Executive's "Mark my words".

Indeed, plenty of Councillors have stated that they find Knowle 'unfit for purpose':

Cllr Chris Wale, who represents the Sidmouth Rural ward, told the meeting that EDDC’s current HQ at Knowle is unsuitable, with staff working in areas that were ‘not fit for purpose’.
Councillors get grilling over EDDC relocation - News - Sidmouth Herald

East Devon’s District Council’s (EDDC) Sidmouth HQ is being marketed as an ‘exceptional redevelopment location’ as the authority aims to fund its move to SkyPark.
It moved to Knowle in the 1970s and had offices added but bosses say it is now ‘unfit for purpose’.
They say the increasing cost of running the ‘ageing building stock’ and ‘occupational inefficiencies’ mean they need to relocate.

‘Unfit for purpose’ Knowle HQ up for sale - Poultry - Country Smallholding

When it comes to actually asking the staff and users of Knowle what they think of the office accommodation, that is a different thing altogether.

There is the rather cold, bureaucratic referencing to 'staff' in the 2013 "Economic Impact Assessment of the Knowle Site":

The District Council prefers to 'inform' rather than engage in two-way conversation - and has applied this approach to 'consulting' its staff:

A spokesman for EDDC said staff are being kept fully informed about progress with the proposed move, with a new purpose-built building on council-owned land at its former waste disposal depot at Heathpark seen as the most likely destination. (December 2011)
EDDC pressing ahead with Knowle move - News - Devon 24

When staff were asked about preferences for relocation, they were not asked about their preference for remaining at Knowle:
Knowle and Staff Wishes - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow

Astounding figures re Knowle relocation | Sidmouth Independent News
Knowle relocation……what do the staff think? | Sidmouth Independent News

A new Freedom of Information request request asks for the details of questionnaires:
Access to the “Accommodation Questionnaires for each Service” re Knowle relocation project - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow

And another FOI request has asked for access to any surveys or market research carried out - if indeed they exist - which would throw some light on the District Council's notion that the layout is somehow 'discouraging corporate working':
Access to statistical justification for the claim that Knowle is "unsuitable" - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow

But others would question this:

Are EDDC Knowle offices really ‘not fit for purpose’? | Save Our Sidmouth

Significantly, members of staff at the District Council have come out questioning their superiors' viewpoint.

This is from the letters pages from yesterday's Herald - where a member of staff questions whether Exmouth Town Hall is 'fit for purpose':

Home - Sidmouth Herald
Leader’s assertion that the move (from Knowle) will be “cost neutral” are ever more fanciful’, says SOS Chair. | Save Our Sidmouth

Other former members of staff have spoken in public:

John Rayson, who worked for many years at the Knwle, said the staff liked working there and didn’t want to move.
Last night’s meeting with Sidmouth District Councillors | East Devon Alliance

Comparisons have been made with other public buildings and services in East Devon:

Members of the public across East Devon are horrified and baffled at the enormous amount of money being spent on making other accommodation suitable for staff to inhabit at any time – let alone a time of financial austerity, when our libraries, youth centres and hospitals are at risk of closure.

Michael Brittain was unconvinced by EDDC’s argument that the existing offices were not fit for purpose, suggesting that councillors visit Sidmouth Health Centre or a hospital to see how staff make do with limited space.
He said: “This suggestion that they want to move because it’s not fit for purpose just doesn’t bear thinking about - there are thousands of us who have worked in far worse conditions.”

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