Thursday, 8 January 2015

Knowle relocation project: “What a pity Mr Swire has not been on board since 2011 when this project was announced – indeed, since 2007 when it was apparently first mooted by the Tory majority.”

Last week, East Devon Hugo Swire MP announced his opposition to the move from Knowle:
Hugo urges EDDC to put HQ relocation on hold | Hugo Swire

This has brought considerable media attention:
MP Hugo backs Exmouth EDDC jobs - but calls for a delay - News - Exmouth Journal
East Devon District Council leader accuses MP of raising concerns about controversial office relocation because of forthcoming election | Exeter Express and Echo
Tory rift over costly council relocation plan in Devon | Western Morning News
Leader Paul Diviani rejects MP’s call to put Knowle relocation project on hold. Save Our Sidmouth responds. | Save Our Sidmouth

Two years ago, Mr Swire showed his concern about the planning application for Knowle:
MP Swire urges Whitehall to ‘call in’ Knowle controversy - News - Sidmouth Herald
... and yet he did not declare at the time that he was 'against it':
The Knowle … Hugo Swire is … neutral. | Sidmouth Independent News

For some time, there have been several calls for Mr Swire to intervene:
Letter to Hugo Swire, MP, re. voicing shared concerns about Knowle relocation | Save Our Sidmouth

Now many feel that the intervention is not enough:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: "The prudent thing to do is put everything on hold."

Whilst others feel there has been a certain irony about the MP's new-found stance:
It’s official: Swire backs Claire Wright on Knowle and Diviani ignores both of them! | East Devon Alliance

This is from the front page of the latest View from Sidmouth: 

SIDMOUTH: Swire ‘too late’ on relocation row
6th January 2015

by Jack Dixon jack@pemedia.co.uk

EAST Devon MP Hugo Swire has come under fire for failing to speak up sooner about his concerns over the district council’s controversial relocation project.

Local campaigners welcomed Mr Swire’s criticism of the move, but said his comments had come “too late”, with the council expected to press ahead with the project in the new year.

Last week the issue sparked a clash between Mr Swire and the council’s Conservative leader Paul Diviani, who accused the MP of electioneering. He said it remained a priority to see the project through and claimed that Mr Swire had raised his concerns “because he has an election to fight”.

The council is now set to pursue a revised plan to move to twin sites in Honiton and Exmouth, after members voted last month to scrap the controversial SkyPark project. The relocation process, which has already cost tax payers more than £700,000, has been strongly criticised over the last two years by campaign groups Save Our Sidmouth and the East Devon Alliance, as well as Independent councillors.

And in the run-up to Christmas, it emerged that Mr Swire shares their concerns about the move. The Conservative minister, who will seek to hold onto his seat at the election in May, reportedly said it would be “prudent” to put the project on hold until the next government spending review. He also said he would be “unhappy” if the council’s headquarters were relocated outside of his constituency.

The comments were welcomed by Sidmouth councillors, as well as election rival Claire Wright, but campaigners say Mr Swire should have spoken out against the process earlier.

A spokesperson for the East Devon Alliance said: “What a pity Mr Swire has not been on board since 2011 when this project was announced – indeed, since 2007 when it was apparently first mooted by the Tory majority.”

Council staff are likely to move into the new offices in 2017 – a switch that is expected to cost around £10 million. Council bosses say taxpayers’ money will be saved in the long term, with the alternative option – refurbishment of the current headquarters at Knowle – costing almost £16 million.

Councillor Diviani has said the move is a key priority and that relocation is “a means to face the future and deliver the best for our residents”.

But Mr Swire’s comments have reignited the debate over whether the move is in residents’ best interests.

The Save Our Sidmouth campaign group welcomed the MP’s intervention and warned that the relocation will be “a disaster” for East Devon if it goes ahead.

Chairman Richard Thurlow told Pulman’s View: “Save Our Sidmouth believes that the relocation plans are foolhardy in the present economic climate, are based on blind ambition rather than detailed analysis, and that the costs of the move have been underestimated. Although EDDC refuses to reveal the full cost of the move, it is now evident that the recent decision to go ahead has been based on manipulated figures of ‘cost savings’ over 20 years, which have no foundation in reality.”

He added: “Naturally, we applaud the desire of EDDC to become more efficient, but we believe that relocation, based on spurious arguments and figures, will not be cost neutral as EDDC maintain.”

View From Online - News from West Dorset, East Devon & South Somerset

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