Thursday, 22 January 2015

Knowle relocation project: of "bland statements and unsubstantiated opinions"

At the end of last year, the Exmouth Journal carried a letter from Independent Cllr Claire Wright on the District Council's plans to relocate from Knowle.
MP Hugo backs Exmouth EDDC jobs - but calls for a delay - News - Exmouth Journal

Cllr Wright's blog has regularly carried pieces on the relocation project - which always carry plenty of comment:
These postings are from December 2014 only:
EDDC leader accuses East Devon MP of electioneering: Monday, 29 December 2014

Last week, Conservative Cllr Tom Wright wrote a reply:

Move will improve the way we serve

Thursday 15th January 2015

I am writing in response to Cllr Claire Wright's letter published on December 30.

Yet again there is the complaint that the decisions concerning the move have been made behind closed doors.

The only discussions that have been `behind closed doors' are those that concerned commercially sensitive information such as the expected values of the property assets East Devon District Council (EDDC) was considering selling.

To tell prospective purchasers what one's bottom line is before negotiations is extremely naïve and potentially very costly to the residents of EDDC.

The buildings at Knowle are totally unsuitable to run any kind of organisation, a fact agreed some months ago by full council and supported by members of the opposition parties.

At the last full council meeting, members were given a detailed break down, prepared by totally independent surveyors, of the cost of just making the buildings water tight - this amounted to over £1.5m. The cost of making the buildings just about adequate was over £5m and the estimated cost of making the premises suitable for 21st century operations several times that.

That money would have to be found from somewhere and where would we go during the extensive work needed?

The simple fact is that the only way to achieve the high quality service EDDC aspires to deliver to its residents is to sell Knowle at the best possible price and invest in purpose built offices.

EDDC had to investigate all alternatives and that necessarily involved expense.

I was not very happy with the SkyPark option but it did have some advantages in a guaranteed price. However, that did not prove viable for a number of reasons.

We now have arrived at a solution that will better serve our community throughout East Devon. A smaller purpose-built centre in Honiton which is, after all, the geographical and historical centre of East Devon.

We will also greatly enhance the services available to our main centre of population, and thus need, in Exmouth.

It is also planned to provide services at other centres throughout the district.

What I have found most difficult to understand is why EDDC ever decided to base itself in Sidmouth where over 50 per cent of the area covered by a 20 mile diameter is in the English Channel.

I can understand residents of Sidmouth being unhappy at the prospect but I think the spending power of good quality homes located in the centre of the town will more than compensate for any spending power lost by the movement of staff, many of whom do not live in Sidmouth anyway. As for the proposition to put off any decision because we don't know what the future will bring is preposterous.

That way leads to perpetual inertia. The only reason we are moving is to be better able to serve our communities throughout East Devon.

It takes courage and leadership to do things, it takes very little of either to just complain and object. At a recent meeting of town and parish councillors from throughout the district I detected a great deal of support for the move.

EDDC has a justifiable reputation for financial prudence.

Council tax has not been raised for five years.

We deliver good services

We own and maintain, to a very high standard, our own housing stock, and we are building new council homes for our residents.

The move is necessary to enable us to continue to develop and improve the way we serve our communities throughout East Devon.


East Devon District Councillor for Budleigh Ward.

Home - Exmouth Journal

The Chair of Save Our Sidmouth has responded with a letter in today's Exmouth Journal:

SOS dismisses “emotional, vague and unsubstantiated views” in Cllr Tom Wright’s letter.

January 22, 2015 by sidmouthsid Leave a comment

This letter has been sent to the Exmouth Journal, countering a Conservative councillor’s letter about relocation, which was published in that newspaper last week:

A response to Councillor Tom Wright’s letter is essential. He demonstrates EDDC councillors’ continuing inability to understand basic issues and he hopes that bland statements and unsubstantiated opinions can overcome the obvious shortcomings of EDDC’s proposed move from the Knowle. Let’s help him to understand those issues.

The facts are:

• EDDC chose Sidmouth for its HQ after the 1973 local government re-organisation. Modern and EDDC-approved extensions were built in the 70s and 80s.

• After a major review in 2001/2002 EDDC confirmed that it should remain at the Knowle because:
o It was central for the district, easily accessible by public transport from all the remaining towns and that considerable sums had already been spent in shutting outlying offices and depots.
o The Knowle allowed any necessary expansion.
o Refurbishment of nearly £4 million was implemented. The then-Conservative leader said that the building should never again be allowed to fall into disrepair but soon, regular planned maintenance ceased.

• An estimate in 2014 by EDDC’s advisers on Relocation suggested that some £1.5 million, to remedy defects, would enable the building “to be occupied for the next five years”. These repairs resulted from “the failure to carry out maintenance in previous years”, (their words).

• EDDC maintains it only needs an area marginally larger than the existing “new” Knowle buildings but no really detailed investigation has been undertaken to and extend the “new” building and sell older parts.

• The Skypark option collapsed when EDDC discovered that they lacked sufficient money to fund it and that they had overlooked statutory regulations on tendering.

• £750,000 has already been allocated and mainly spent on relocation fees despite the desperate need to fund other services.

• EDDC sums for the move do not make sense. The costs of the new Honiton building and the refurbished Exmouth building, plus other essential spend, will total more than £15m- in these times of austerity.

• EDDC plans to borrow £5.5m over 20 years for the move and claims that energy cost savings will make the move “cost neutral”. Informed commentators have ridiculed these energy saving estimates which are five times higher than government’s own predictions.

• Only a few chosen councillors know the financial breakdown for the Knowle sale, the costs of new and refurbished offices and all the other associated costs, yet other councillors continue to vote it through.

EDDC is secretive, responds tardily to FOI requests and even objected to the Information Commissioner’s ruling to release some reports prepared by their consultants. £7,500 has been spent on a barrister to appeal against this ruling.

The relocation, a Conservative-supported vanity project, is opposed by many councillors, including the Independent Claire Wright, the prospective Parliamentary candidate for East Devon who has long-since been an outspoken critic. Even the current Conservative MP, Hugo Swire urges EDDC to delay the relocation exercise because of uncertainties on the future of Local Government and the loss of 250 jobs to Honiton.

Any move, a disaster for which we would all pay over 20 years, cannot be justified by emotional, vague and unsubstantiated views.

Richard Thurlow
Chair, Save Our Sidmouth

SOS dismisses “emotional, vague and unsubstantiated views” in Cllr Tom Wright’s letter. | Save Our Sidmouth
Home - Exmouth Journal

See also:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: and the politics of maps ..... "What I have found most difficult to understand is why EDDC ever decided to base itself in Sidmouth where over 50 per cent of the area covered by a 20 mile diameter is in the English Channel."

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