Sunday, 8 March 2015

Knowle relocation project: deciding to sell >>>>>>>> Cabinet: Wednesday 11th March

The District Council's cabinet will be meeting on Wednesday to decide on selling Knowle:
Agenda for CabinetWednesday, 11 March 2015; 5.30pm

As of page 39 of the agenda, the cabinet will be considering the Deputy CEO's report:

Part A matters for decision 
– Key Decisions 
12 Office relocation (pages 39-120) 
To consider the report of the Deputy Chief Executive on the proposed office relocation, which includes the internal and external auditor reports. The recommendations from Cabinet, Overview and Scrutiny and Audit and Governance will be referred for determination to an Extra Ordinary meeting of full Council on 25 March 2015. 

The external and internal auditors were asked 'thoroughly' to look at the proposals:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: 'checks and balances': the SWAP
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: 'checks and balances': the SWAP ... an appeal to the public to send in "any information about possible errors in the Council’s facts and figures..."

A combined meeting of the Audit and the Scrutiny Cttees was due to consider the auditors' reports:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: energy and consultancy figures: Auditors' reports to go to joint committees 5th March

However, this joint committee will now meet the day after the cabinet meets:

Relocation Decisions 
Purpose of report: Background: 
iii) Audit: The report informs members of the outcomes following their request for independent audit exercises on the governance, modelling and assumptions of the relocation project and to make known the key financial details informing the relocation project, having been the subject of independent audit as required by Council. The figures have been modelled in cooperation with our independent external auditors, Grant Thornton and their cost consultants, Gleeds. Furthermore, our internal auditors, the South West Audit Partnership, have also examined the project’s governance and process. Both reports are attached and both auditors will be available to answer Member’s questions at Cabinet and the subsequent joint meeting on 12 March 2015 of Audit and Governance and Overview and Scrutiny committees. 

Agenda for CabinetWednesday, 11 March 2015; 5.30pm

The District Council had been questioned about its proposed energy-saving costs:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: the saga of getting information about energy cost calculations continues...
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: saving energy costs - and challenging the justification to move

The agenda paper claims to have addressed these cost issues:

Relocation Decisions 
Purpose of report: Background: 
vii) In relation to other financial matters, attachments to this report also include full detail of the running cost elements included in the whole life calculations (a 20 year period that reflects the timescale up to a first office refurbishment). Within the running cost calculations it is worth pointing out that we have taken on board external criticism of the previous energy cost assumptions and factored in DECC future projections of energy prices. In doing this we have consulted the South West Energy and Environment Group (SWEEG) - SWEEG - University of Exeter

Agenda for CabinetWednesday, 11 March 2015; 5.30pm

Interestingly, no 'costs of relocation' are mentioned - and the top 'benefit' is the 'asset value':
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: "We’re digging into the opportunities to release assets and invest in assets to increase revenue streams."

This is clearly now the main justification for relocation:

A. Benefits of Relocation 
2.0 Asset Value - Like other local authorities across the country, East Devon is looking to maintain quality of service, manage cost and make best use of its assets. Relocation is the means to make best use of the asset value of the Knowle Site to fund modern and more modestly scaled premises with functionality and flexibility for the future. Business performance and customer service will be improved in offices that are open not cellular, collaborative and connected, accessible with efficient and flexible use of space and minimised operating costs. The price agreed for the Knowle Site is the outcome of an open and competitive marketing exercise and robust selection procedure. It reflects good value when compared to the previous Red Book value estimates commissioned by the Council. 

Agenda for CabinetWednesday, 11 March 2015; 5.30pm

The District Council has sought to minimise the 'use' of the parkland:
Futures Forum: Public Rights of Way through Knowle: County Council have now included three footpaths in the Definitive Map

But there is no reference in the agenda to the appeal the District Council has made against this finding - which will take place later this summer:

Recommendations B 
Cabinet is asked to agree the following recommendation to be submitted to Full Council for final approval: 4. To determine that the Knowle Site is no longer required for the purpose of public walks or as a pleasure ground under the Public Health Act 1875.


6.15 In 2013 the Council carried our several snapshot surveys of usage across a number of parklands in the district. In terms of the recorded numbers of users of the Knowle parkland, and while acknowledging that this represents snapshots in time rather than sustained surveys, the following figures demonstrate the level of usage: ...
6.16 ... While it is therefore acknowledged that some useable space will be lost, it is not considered that the relatively small area to be lost will in anyway jeopardize the high quality amenity value and appearance of the remainder of the parkland nor the ability to enjoy the space remaining. The remaining land will retain its amenity value and will still present an attractive and highly useable space. Officers do not consider that the loss of this, relatively small area of useable space, will spoil the ambience nor detract from the overall character of this part of Sidmouth. For the same reason it is not viewed that the attractiveness of the town to tourists will be adversely affected by the appropriation.

Agenda for CabinetWednesday, 11 March 2015; 5.30pm

Furthermore, the District Council had considered there to be a 'surfeit' of open space:
Futures Forum: Knowle: the Byes and when a 'meadow' is a 'park'...
Futures Forum: Knowle: the Byes and when a 'meadow' is a 'park': part two
Futures Forum: Knowle: the Byes and when a 'meadow' is a 'park': part three

This has been taken into consideration, but the area which was grazed by sheep until four years ago - Sid Meadow, owned by the National Trust - is still included under 'Parks and Recreation Grounds' in the Open Space Study:

6.18 The Council’s Open Space Study Review 2014 shows that Sidmouth has 1.75ha above the minimum open space standard for Parks and Recreation Grounds for a settlement of Sidmouth’s population. The Knowle parkland is included in the Open Space Study under the Parks and Recreation Grounds typology. Concerns have been raised that The Byes has been included within the calculation and if you were to remove it then there may be under provision. This was an issue raised when the planning application for the Knowle was considered in 2012/13. Following this, the Council undertook the Open Space Study Review 2014 which amongst other things specifically considered the designation of The Byes. Through this process, a large amount of The Byes that had previously been designated as Parks and Recreation Grounds was re-designated as Natural and Semi-Natural Greenspace to more accurately reflect its usage and management by the Sid Vale Association. This (along with other changes in the Review) significantly reduced the amount of Parks and Recreation Grounds from 7.33ha above the minimum standard to 1.75ha above the minimum standard. The remainder of The Byes was considered to be appropriately designated as Parks and Recreation Grounds. The Parks and Recreation Grounds figure for Sidmouth therefore now only includes the appropriate area of The Byes. Accordingly, should the 0.354ha subject to Policy RE1 be lost there would still be an excess of 1.396ha when judged against the assessment criteria. 

Agenda for CabinetWednesday, 11 March 2015; 5.30pm

Here is the take from the 'Real Zorro' blog:

Knowle sale - 11 March EDDC Cabinet papers in full

Thursday, 5 March 2015

The papers for East Devon District Council’s Cabinet meeting that is being held on 11 March have now been published. Zorro’s key interest in this meeting is that it will in effect be the decision making meeting on whether the Council’s Headquarters site at the Knowle is put up for sale and it determines to relocate on split sites to Exmouth and Honiton.

Of course the full Council meeting on 25 March makes the ultimate decision but Zorro struggles to see how at that meeting the Conservative majority group Councillors will suddenly wake up and have grown some backbone and oppose any Cabinet recommendation to sell the Knowle. So, therefore to all intents and purposes this Cabinet meeting is the key date for anyone interested in the future of the Knowle.

EDDC Headquarters, the Knowle. Its future seems doomed.

The meeting is open to the public, starts at 5.30pm and is being held at the Knowle in Sidmouth. The consideration of the sale of the Knowle is being dealt with under item 12 of the agenda “Office relocation”. The consideration is in the open part of the meeting which allows members of the public to be in the Council Chamber whilst the members of the Cabinet discuss the issue.

EDDC Leader Clr Diviani. He wants to sell off the Knowle.

Yesterday the Sidmouth Herald broke the news, and Zorro carried the story on this blog, that Pegasus Life Ltd had indicated it was willing to buy the Knowle and associated land for between £7m and £8m. So there is a real incentive at work here for the Cabinet member to push on through the already preferred position of selling the Knowle and putting into effect the relocation of the Headquarters. All of this is despite the opposition of a large number of District Council electors.

Pegasus Life. It wants to buy the Knowle.

The Cabinet agenda is here – http://sites.google.com/site/realzorro1/11.3.15EDDCCabinetAgenda.pdf

The papers relating to the relocation are in three parts and cover pages 39 to 137 of the various documents attached to the agenda. Zorro has only captured the papers that specifically relate to the relocation issue. For reference pages numbered 81 to 89 inclusive are duplicates of what appear in pages 64 to 72 inclusive.

Relocation document 1 – is the Council’s report on the relocation and it is clear that the sale of the Knowle and relocating to Exmouth and Honiton is what the Cabinet members are expected to agree to. Interestingly, in the very final section (8.2) of this report it says “This is a significant and sensitive decision for the Council to take. EDDC is not a Council that shies away from major decisions....”

The report is therefore concluding that despite all of the opposition from electors and many Councillors to the sale and the relocation, that the Cabinet should press on regardless!

Document 1 is here -http://sites.google.com/site/realzorro1/11.3.15EDDCCabinetAgendaRelocation1.pdf

Document 2 is a relocation audit undertaken by South West Partnership Audit (SWAP) and you can read it here -http://sites.google.com/site/realzorro1/11.3.15EDDCCabinetAgendaRelocation2.pdf

It is worth noting that SWAP is an organisation that is run by and for a number of local authorities, including East Devon District Council! So, that’s handy then!

Document 3 is entitled “Financial Model services for the Council’s office relocation project and benchmarking exercise of cost assumptions” and it was prepared by financial accountants Grant Thornton. This document is here – http://sites.google.com/site/realzorro1/11.3.15EDDCCabinetAgendaRelocation3.pdf

Real Zorro: Knowle sale - 11 March EDDC Cabinet papers in full
Real Zorro on Knowle relocation | East Devon Watch

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