Saturday, 14 March 2015

Knowle relocation project: deciding to sell >>>>>>>> Audit and Scrutiny combined Cttees: Thursday 12th March >>> reports

This week, the combined Audit & Governance and Overview & Scrutiny Committees decided to accept the reports from the internal and external auditors:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: deciding to sell >>> Audit and Scrutiny combined Cttees: Thursday 12th March

However, as the chair of the SOS campaign noted, the auditors simply audited what they were asked to audit by their clients, the District Council:

Auditors’ reports highly dependent on “quality and sufficiency of data used”

March 13, 2015 by sidmouthsid Leave a comment

Richard Thurlow, Chair of Save Our Sidmouth, clarified this point in his speech to Councillors yesterday (Special Combined Committee Meeting of Overview & Scrutiny, and Audit & Governance, Knowle, 12/03/2015):


The public have not been permitted to have other than a superficial view of the costings which make up the attempt to persuade that Relocation is cost neutral. Councillors and the public have to take the results as presented without understanding or knowing the processes involved, or appreciating the range of sensitivity of the output.

It is likely that the review undertaken by Grant Thornton and Gleeds is technically competent within the parameters given to them.. This is more than I can say for all the work undertaken by your Deputy CEO, which has been characterised by wrong data, erroneous calculations and embarrassing u-turns.

The problem with all such analyses is that the results are highly dependent on the quality and sufficiency of the data used and the validity of any predictions. Slight changes in both can make significant differences in the results.

This is very important to understand. In this case, the review has come up with a single result.. namely a stated cost and betterment over 20 years. I am surprised to see that there is no attempt to quantify a range of costs and benefits depending on whether the input such as the costs of energy, are higher, or lower than those assumed. This is a weakness, as it implies that the single result is mathematically and financially correct. This is not so.

In addition, Grant Thornton/Gleeds say, and I quote;-
2.4 The conclusions are based solely on the results of the Model and therefore do not consider any qualitative aspects of the options, and nor have we considered the extent to which the office relocation project will meet the Council’s service or efficiency aspirations/objectives.

This is telling you that the financial equation stacks up, but not whether the relocation project is good, or bad, or meets your objectives.

We firmly believe that the project is bad , that it ignores a number of issues and we don’t think that it meets your objectives. There are a huge number of uncertainties and unresolved problems which are being glossed over.

You should ask yourselves the following questions:-

• Are you really happy that all various options for moving were considered? Various options have been assessed against a highly biased one of using the whole of the Knowle and basically doing nothing to it except some urgent repairs, repairs which have been purposefully neglected over the past few years. The option of using and modestly improving the “new Building” at the Knowle and a refurbished building at EXMOUTH has not been considered This is a serious omission.
• Are you really happy with the disposal of an asset worth £9-10m, (the land alone is worth £7-8m), to provide assets which are acknowledged to be worth £3.25m at Honiton and £0.9m at Exmouth ? a total of £4M/ This is just throwing money away.
• Are you really happy about taking out a loan for over £9.25m for several years. When the future is so unclear? And carry over a loan of £2,1 m for 20 years?
• Have you really thought about the costs and difficulties of “Customer orientated mobile working practices, the Worksmart programme and mobile hubs”? What does this mean? The introduction of IT systems and practices are notoriously difficult to plan, cost and implement. Huge cost over runs are usual

This is probably the most important decision that EDDC will make; it is being rushed through with indecent haste, at the fag end of an administration that may well change significantly.

I would ask you to question the various assumptions inherent in the proposal to relocate, and reject it.’

Auditors’ reports highly dependent on “quality and sufficiency of data used” | Save Our Sidmouth

Moreover, also observed by SOS, the controverisial decision to shift the area for development into the Pubic Open Space was never properly debated:

Incursion into Knowle’s Public Open Space “has never been debated by councillors”

March 13, 2015 by sidmouthsid Leave a comment

Peter Whitfield’s speech, for SOS, warned Councillors at last night’s Special Combined Committee Meeting, precisely why “loss of parkland” cited by councillors themselves remains a major Knowle issue.

Here’s what he said:

‘Chairman, Councillors,
This meeting is convened less than 24hours after last night’s Cabinet and you are confronted with vetting the biggest and most far-reaching decision that has faced this council for the past ten years. The sole item on the agenda for this meeting combining two key committees is to test the outcome from item 12 among 19 other items dealt with at that Cabinet. These two facts are a disgraceful abuse of procedure which I’m afraid, has become typical of this Council’s style.

However I will focus on the recent Appropriation and Disposal of Public Open Space notices, and especially on the incursion onto the upper terraces in front of the old hotel. This extension of the development boundary has never been debated by councillors despite it being raised on numerous occasions by the public. At the Council meeting of 24 July 2013 18 sets of minutes from 7 committees including four from the DMC were accepted. One of these was for their 18 July meeting which included the new development line. Those minutes were only put before council at the meeting so there is no chance that they could have been properly examined. Indeed an attempt at discussion was guillotined by Cllrs Cope and Bloxham proposing “ next business”.

It has been claimed that the revised drawing was approved by the Development Management Committee (DMC), and included in a consultation version of the draft local plan and at reference point 133 Strategy 26 there is indeed a marginal statement “Land allocation at Knowle for housing is shown to cover the footprint and the immediately abutting land of the council office”. The diagram illustrating this was in very small scale and very heavily shaded with brown diagonal lines which made it almost impossible to discern the building outline or to see how far into the abutting land the new boundary imposed.

On 20 August DMC met again to initiate final consultation on the Plan. On page 58 is the diagram with a comment “The site area at the current council office at Knowle has been amended to show a smaller area that reflects current development expectations.” This followed the refusal of the council’s own Outline Planning Application in March 2013, citing loss of parkland as a major issue.

The extant local plan at inset map 48 shows quite clearly protected land beginning at the building line of the old hotel. The draft local plan enlarging this area was thrown out by the Inspector and no new one has yet been out to consultation.

This meeting should “reflect the voice and concerns of the public” as required by the Overview & Scrutiny’s remit, and remove this added area from the land for appropriation and disposal.’

Incursion into Knowle’s Public Open Space “has never been debated by councillors” | Save Our Sidmouth

And in a third comment, the point is made that the Knowle relocation project is not just a matter for concern in Sidmouth:

Public consultation was limited to two ads in the Sidmouth Herald, admits EDDC legal officer

March 13, 2015 by sidmouthsid 1 Comment

The basic supposition behind EDDC’s office relocation project, is that it is a matter for the whole District. Very odd, therefore, that EDDC’s public consultation on the appropriation and disposal of extra land on the Knowle site, to suit the developer, was not extended to the those who live outside the Sid Valley. In answer to a question from the public, Henry Gordon-Lennox, of EDDC’s legal department, explained at last night’s special combined Scrutiny and Audit meeting, that there is no legal obligation to do so.

But many voters outside Sidmouth have strong views on the financial implications of the relocation plan, which EDDC Deputy Chief Executive, Richard Cohen, again confirmed last night, will take 20 years to pay off. EDDC’s perceived casual approach to public consultation on a multi-million pound scheme blighted with uncertainties, one again calls the leadership of the relocation project into disrepute.


Peter Whitfield
March 13, 2015 at 8:06 pm

This is an issue worth following up. I commented about the Legal notices that this was a sale affecting the whole District. The LGA 1972 says ads should be placed in a newspaper “circulating in the area” in which the land is. The words used by the Council’s report say “in the locality” which is Sidmouth. But area could be interpreted as the area affected so should ads have been been posted across the District? Does anyone know a way to get an authoritative ruling on this interpretation?

Public consultation was limited to two ads in the Sidmouth Herald, admits EDDC legal officer | Save Our Sidmouth

The East Devon Watch blog also makes several observations:
Relocation…the key question | East Devon Watch
Cautions for Councillors voting on relocation | East Devon Watch
Has EDDC already designed its new HQ? | East Devon Watch
EDDC masterclass on how not to answer questions! | East Devon Watch

And one particular question, with comment, asks about the nature of the contract currently being negotiated:


13th March 2015

How come, if a buyer for Knowle (Pegasus Life) was only recently chosen, all the paperwork is ready to sign, seal and deliver before the end of March?

No final decision had been made on 22 January 2015: 
Overview and Scrutiny Committee minutes for 22 January 2015 - Office relocation update - East Devon District Council

The successful bidder was announced on 4 March 2015: 
Mystery Knowle bidder revealed - News - Midweek Herald

and within 3 weeks all will be signed and sealed.

3 weeks to flog Knowle, 4 plus years and counting to get a Local Plan and it’s still outstanding business – no special meetings, few extra resources.

Says a lot about how these resources are prioritised and where the money goes on all those (uncounted and unaccountable) officer hours.

One thought on “Knowle: another question”

Paul F says:
13 Mar 2015 at 3:42pm

More to the point, if I was Pegasus Life I would not want to sign to pay £7m-£8m until I was sure that I would get planning permission.

So what reassurances have been given to Pegasus Life that they will get planning permission, particularly since the Council previously refused its own planning application for the site?

Knowle: another question | East Devon Watch

See also:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: Pegasus as preferred bidder... However, its proposals for ‘one of the finest coastal properties’ in South Devon have been rejected by Dawlish Town Council 'on the grounds of overdevelopment'.

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