Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Knowle relocation project: selling, borrowing, speculating

The District Council's political leadership will be meeting up tomorrow to give a formal nod to sell the Knowle site and borrow on the speculation that there will be income from it to build a new HQ:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: Cabinet to consider 'options' as costs spiral even further: part two >>> Weds 5th March

Their decision will be rubber-stamped at the next Council meeting on 26th April:
List of meetings 2016/2017

At the last full Council meeting, the Leader addressed Councillors on 'Revenue Estimates, Capital Programme and Council Tax':

The Leader recognised that although there was still much to do, he saw exciting opportunities ahead.

He referred specifically to the office relocation programme and the efficiencies that this would achieve, and the combined activities with Devon County, Exeter, Teignbridge and Mid Devon.

Delivery of the new recycling and waste contract was a clear example of the Council’s continual commitment to improve efficiencies, wherever and whenever possible, through better working practice and technical improvements.

Efforts were ongoing to make sure that the Council’s assets worked to best effect for East Devon tax payers - seizing opportunities such as granting Enterprise Zone status to increase economic opportunity and benefit, and work being undertaken for EDDC to potentially establish its own local housing company to increase the housing supply for East Devon people - helping to satisfy the seemingly insatiable demand for new homes.


In other words, at this time, the relocation project represents huge risks.

Firstly, the Cabinet is proposing to borrow large sums of money based on no definite sale of the Knowle site:
Costs of Knowle Relocation Project - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow

But this has been an issue from the start:
Futures Forum: Knowle: relocation... costs of borrowing...?

Secondly, there is no business case
Business case for Knowle relocation project – 1st February 2017 - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow

... despite the Deputy CEO referring to such an entity in the agenda notes to tomorrow's Cabinet meeting:

The report and appendices contain detailed financial information relating to the options considered in this report and support the recommendations made. Grant Thornton were appointed to develop an updated financial Model of the office relocation business case to follow on from their original Model and cost assumption appraisal. 

The financial position presented in this report has been taken from the Model prepared by Grant Thornton and their full report is appended for members’ consideration.


And yet the District Council has refused to make the 'model' available to the public:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project >>> the ICO issues a new Decision Notice: "The council has failed to comply fully with this request and in doing so has breached sections of the FOI Act"

Thirdly, the project is now clearly not 'cost-neutral':
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: on being 'cost neutral' and 'fit for purpose' and asbestos free >>> comparing the Knowle and Exmouth Town Hall sites

Fourthly, the whole political context is up in the air - largely because there will be elections in less than two years, so 'Gateways' will have to be got through pretty quickly - but also because of the various devolution deals referred to by the Leader:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: of devolution and rising costs

And lastly we have the mechanism by which the District Council will probably leverage the whole package: give itself planning permission on its own site using its own housing company - and then borrowing heavily for its new HQ on the promise of being able to sell these units:
Futures Forum: District Council local housing company >>> "the ‘huge risk’ in speculating on the property market"

But, then, no risk no fun - or, as the Leader would have it, there are 'exciting opportunities ahead'.

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