Sunday, 11 February 2018

Knowle relocation project: moving and improving pages last updated March 2017 > and serious questions still remain

The Knowle relocation project is back on track - as the press office of the District Council has it:
23 January 2018 - Planning inspector gives go ahead for PegasusLife development of council’s Sidmouth HQ - East Devon

Their 'moving and improving' pages continue to paint a very positive picture of things 

- although most the pages (except for pages 1 and 3) were last updated back in March 2017 -
and there is not exactly 'all you need to know' contained therein:

Moving and Improving: all you need to know about the office relocation

1. The decision

The decision to relocate was taken by council members on 25 March 2015. The council will move out of its current premises at Knowle, Sidmouth to purpose built offices in Honiton and to Exmouth Town Hall, which will be refurbished.
Council officers are engaged in implementing the decision of the council which will see relocation to Exmouth take place during the latter part of 2017, with relocation to the new purpose built offices in Honiton by late 2018.  It is important to note that these dates have to remain indicative only as there are many factors outside the control of the council that may create delays in this process.
At a meeting of the full council on Wednesday 26 April 2017 recommendations to progress this major project were approved. The council approved a report which recommended that relocation to Honiton should not be dependent on the immediate redevelopment of East Devon’s current offices at Knowle, which is owned outright by the local authority.  
Knowle’s sale and ultimate redevelopment will still take place in the future and the capital receipt will then be secured to largely fund the relocation which will cost £10,361,000 in total.
The council will also consider investing in a more direct approach to the entrance to the new Honiton HQ by building an access road along the side of the existing East Devon Business Centre.  At a cost of £225,000 this would simplify the route from the main road to the council’s offices for visitors and staff alike.
The council has now started working with its contractors Interserve and works have started on site.

Last updated 23 January 2018

2. What are the main reasons for relocating?

The financial imperative for the council to move was a fundamental consideration in the decision taken by members. Like all public bodies, the council has a duty to live within its means, protect frontline services in so far as possible and ensure best value for council tax payers.  The council recognises the need to operate from buildings which are affordable and cost efficient and the modelling demonstrates that the council will be  much better off if it relocates and saving money from Day 1 of the move. 
The detailed analysis also shows that in direct comparisons of operational expenditure between staying at Knowle (with no repairs) and moving to Honiton/Exmouth offices, there are savings of £6m over a 20 year period if the council moves. 
Knowle is much bigger than the council needs and this ex hotel can only offer office accommodation/facilities which are outdated and not conducive to the way we work.  Our new and refurbished office space will reflect our new ways of working and will include functional and usable areas with fully accessible, modern reception areas for our customers and visitors.   There will be better facilities for our members including a fully functional council chamber better equipped with audio/visual equipment to support council business and the democratic process. 
The decision to relocate to both Honiton and Exmouth provides the council with a unique opportunity to operate from its two largest towns.

Last updated 2 March 2017

3. What will happen to Knowle?

The buyer of Knowle is a company called Pegasus Life Ltd.  This company are specialists in providing living and care facilities for an older population.  The demographic of East Devon shows clear compatibility with usage of this kind with Sidmouth having a population of 45.3% over 65 and 11% over 85 (2011 census).
The sale of Knowle to Pegasus Life Ltd is subject to a successful planning application. The application from Pegasus Life was considered by East Devon District Council's Development Management Committee on 6 December 2016 who refused permission. However, Pegasus Life Ltd appealed this decision and the planning inspector has now allowed the proposals to go ahead, subject to conditions.
The council has agreed that 86% (3.5 hectares) of the parkland at Knowle will be offered to Sidmouth Town Council to own and manage in perpetuity with a covenant over future development of this land.

Last updated 25 January 2018

5. Engagement in the process

A project of this scale and complexity happens over the course of a long period of time.  In fact an operational desire to relocate has been on the cards since 2008 when members instructed one of the council’s directors to look at the options for a new headquarters.  The idea gained extra momentum in response to the challenge of  government cuts.  A project team was set up to investigate a move from Knowle so that we could avoid the need to cut front line services. 
We have consistently worked hard on keeping residents and stakeholders informed through a variety of different channels.   At the outset of the project there were communication events in Sidmouth coupled with two stakeholder events to outline the reasons why relocation was considered necessary.
There have been many press releases outlining the progress of the project. 
The project has received criticism for its lack of transparency resulting from efforts made by the council to restrict information which was inherently commercially sensitive.  Going forward the council publishes information in accordance with specific guidance from the Information Commissioner and as soon as it can do so without creating commercial risks for the project. 
There are regular update reports to Cabinet and Full Council to help keep everyone abreast of the progress of this lengthy project.
Throughout the project the council has kept its staff informed of the progress and plans.  Engagement with our staff continues through a variety of different channels and is considered effective.  In a recent staff engagement survey 93% of staff said they would recommend working at East Devon.
Staff engagement throughout the project has been paramount and in February 2016 the council retained its Gold Investor in People status with the assessor commenting ‘there are many examples where people feel really engaged and part of the consultation process.  This means not just people at head office but those based at more remote locations in smaller teams and this is largely down to excellent team leadership and understanding effective communication’.
We will continue staff engagement in this particular project through our ongoing use of worksmart workshops and our usual internal communication channels.

Last updated 2 March 2017

Moving and Improving: all you need to know about the office relocation - East Devon

However, serious questions still remain.

Yes, there has been a new Freedom of Information request about 'costs' - giving the same information as above:

All relevant EDDC Relocation Project expenditure, inclusive of accruals, to 31 October 2017 totals £4,103,291, leaving a balance of £6,482,709 when compared to the approved Project Budget of £10,586,000.
The anticipated final costs for Exmouth remain as £1,669,000 and for Heathpark £8,917,000

Costs of Knowle relocation - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: latest FOI request on costs

But the following questions posed by a correspondent are not answered in the above information:

1. How much expected to be saved in energy costs through the move to Honiton?

The District Council claim they will save £5.55m over 20 years by moving from Knowle:

But the figures have been shown time and again to be spurious in the least:

With more detailed challenges to the figures here:

2. Is PL is paying a CIL?

The answer is No, despite further FOI requests:

The full refusal to pay can be seen in the contract with PegasusLife:

It's all about 'viability':

3. How much being paid out of council coffers and how much PWLB loan? and
4. Where stated it will be paid off in 20 years?

It's clearly a risk:

A further FOI request asked for clarity over this:

COSTS OF BORROWING discrepancies:

At the Cabinet meeting of 17th July 2013, the costs of borrowing were outlined: “The option to move would use capital receipts from the sale of the Knowle and, if required, prudential borrowing up to a maximum of £4.8M (the calculated savings on running costs over the 20 years following the move).”

This was confirmed in October and November 2013: 

According to the minutes of the Council meeting of 25th March 2015, the costs of borrowing were confirmed as follows: “To make the move to modern offices £2.1m of long-term borrowing was needed”

According to the agenda for the Cabinet meeting of 8th June 2016, the costs of borrowing were as follows:

“Future Borrowing
There are plans for the Council to borrow £13,262,782 to fund its capital programme in 2016/17.
This borrowing may be from internal resources, PWLB, or from the market, the most cost effective method being selected at the time the funds are required.
The 2016/17 borrowing requirement is made up as follows:
… £5,990,000 Office Relocation” 

> Could you provide a breakdown of how each of these figures was reached – namely: £2.1m, £4.6m and £5.99m. What does each of these figures represent? How are these seeming discrepancies to be explained?

Costs of Knowle Relocation Project - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow

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