Monday, 28 January 2019

Knowle relocation project: challenging the official line that "staying in Sidmouth was not an option"

The Herald carries the headline of the cost of the District Council's new HQ in Honiton - and yet this was only half of the actual cost of relocation:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project > a spanking new HQ for £5.6 million... or for £10.6 million?

Devon Live and the Express & Echo reiterate the District Council's line that 'there was no alternative' to moving from Knowle - and yet analysis proves otherwise:


EDDC has chosen to divert funds it does not have to the building of new headquarters – as indeed have other councils, to their cost. As such, EDDC’s commitment to spending well over £10million can only be described “as a ‘milestone’ for debt – taken on by council tax payers in East Devon. No matter how you spin this project, it is not residents who will benefit. And few if any of the councillors making these decisions will be around in 20 years when the true costs and ‘savings’ are known.” 

There has been a huge lack of confidence in these figures throughout the project. The campaign group Save Our Sidmouth has opposed the move, believing “that EDDC has not done its sums correctly, has not properly assessed the cost of renovations to part of the existing Knowle buildings and that the risk in building a new office – borrowing up to £4.8 m and paying for the ‘savings’ over a 20 year period – is far too risky in the current economic climate”. 

Energy use: As for their initial promises of large energy savings, EDDC claim they will save £5.55m over 20 years by moving from Knowle; again, these figures have been proven to be wildly inaccurate and so extremely contentious. Moreover, EDDC has refused to provide detailed energy figures to verify their cost calculations; they will not countenance considering alternative costings, such as remaining at Knowle; and they have ignored their own scrutiny committee’s instruction to allow the commissioning of an independent survey on the state of Knowle. 

Over-development: It was rather different in the 1960s, when the District Council sought a more modest proposal in purchasing the Knowle hotel: “It is the intention that part of the building should be used for housing (the major part of the purchase price is for this purpose) and the remainder for improved council accommodation...” However, today, EDDC refuses to consider alternative options to relocation. 

In fact, it has been proven that its declared wish to reduce its office-space could easily be accommodated if it retrenched to the purpose-built 1970s offices, thereby leaving a saleable asset in the original Knowle (once again suitable for conversion back to flats) to cover their refurbishment costs.

Conflicts of interest: Perhaps the most serious charge, however, is that EDDC will profit directly from its granting of any planning applications at Knowle. Furthermore, EDDC has a clear incentive to flout its own Local Plan’s demands for affordable housing provision: analysis of ‘alternative schemes’ for Knowle shows that there would be a substantial difference in value of the site – of between £3.2 and £6.8 million – depending on the affordable housing requirement.

Here is the official guide to the relocation project:

First look around inside new East Devon District Council offices

Staying at their current headquarters in Knowle was 'not an option'


Daniel Clark

Local Democracy Reporter
25 JAN 2019



East Devon District Council’s new headquarters at Blackdown House in Honiton will be open for business of Monday, February 11 - and this is what it looks like.

The new HQ, which replaces the council’s existing HQ at The Knowle in Sidmouth, has cost the council £8.7m, while an additional £1.5m was spent on upgrading Exmouth town hall where one third of the council staff are to be based.

The controversial decision to relocate offices was taken back in March 2015 as it was decided the council needed to relocate into buildings that are affordable, cost efficient, and would significantly reduce the overheads of the council.

The new HQ is less than half the floor space used by the Knowle, office space is more efficient, and a new council chamber will have improved audio/visual equipment for councillors and the public.

The new East Devon District Council offices in Honiton

Savings of £1.4m over 20 years will be generated by the relocation, while from day 1, energy costs to the council will halve.

The council added that staying in Sidmouth was ‘not an option’, as the maintenance bill to bring the Knowle officers into good repair was £4.5m and they would still have been faced with much higher energy bills than the council needed to pay, even after replacing the boilers, rewiring, and a new roof.

A council spokesman added: “The Sidmouth offices, as well as being outdated and expensive to run, are too large. We need much less space and an old Victorian hotel with extensions was no longer fit for purpose nor affordable.

The new East Devon District Council offices in Honiton

“Our new HQ at Blackdown House will provide face-to-face services to our residents and both buildings (as well as Exmouth town hall) will have a bright and welcoming reception area to meet customers and clients. There are self-service computer facilities and interview spaces as well as that are vastly superior to what we are able to offer at Sidmouth.

“Honiton as a site for our new HQ is much more central to East Devon than Sidmouth, and while we are working to encourage people to use our online services more, if they want to visit our offices or attend council meetings, then Honiton is a central location and the facilities of the building are very accessible.”

The new East Devon District Council offices in Honiton

In a phased approach, staff will be leaving the existing offices at the Knowle over the next two weeks. The Sidmouth offices will close at 5pm on Friday, February 8, and Blackdown House will be open for business on Monday, February 11, at 8.30am.

Richard Cohen, deputy chief executive, said: “We have been waiting for years for this to happen and the staff are looking forward to it and it is the work of a 21 century council.”

The new East Devon District Council offices in Honiton


  • 97,000 bricks were used on the project
  • 600 people worked on site
  • The building is roughly 17m tall and the total floor area is 2,760m2
  • 216 shared desks including reception desks and booths are provided
  • The council chamber has 69 public seats with a further 40 seats available in a public gallery overlooking the chamber, and with a hearing loop provided
  • 130 car parking spaces, seven of which are disabled, and there are two electric vehicle charging points
  • Renewable energy generation with 112 phot voltaic panels on the south facing roof slope, with an anticipated yield of 32,000 kWa pa.
  • Constant lux levels will be provided in the offices by a smart and intelligent lightings system that reacts to levels of natural light in the offices and either dims or brightens the light

The new East Devon District Council offices in Honiton

The Knowle has been sold to Pegasus Life Ltd for £7.5m, and they have been granted planning permission to convert the building into a 113-apartment assisted-living community for older people.

First look around inside new East Devon District Council offices - Devon Live

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