The District Council’s biggest project continues to raise questions:
As related by Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Clark, for Devon Live in his report on last week’s council meeting:
‘Questions hang in the air’ over council HQ relocation project
A full report will be provided that will analyse in detail East Devon District Council’s relocation from Sidmouth to Honiton as ‘questions hang in the air’ over the project. East Devon District Council’s moved into their new headquarters at Blackdown House in Honiton on February 11. The new HQ, which replaced the council’s existing HQ at The Knowle in Sidmouth, 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. But the relocation project has faced criticism over the lack of transparency throughout the project, the procurement process, and the amount of cash the council received for the sale.
A freedom of information request asking how much the Knowle would be worth with planning permission said the answer was £50m, £42.5m higher than the council agreed to sell the land to Pegasus Life for, the latest edition of Private Eye states, naming the council as a ‘rotten borough’ because of it.
At Wednesday night’s full council meeting, Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the East Devon Alliance, said that ‘questions hang in the air’ over the project. He asked: “Both the disposal of the Knowle HQ and the procurement of the new Honiton HQ are matters of great concern to thousands of people in East Devon. Questions will hang in the air until they are fully addressed. Will the leader of the council support the immediate creation of a councillor-led working party, politically balanced, of up to 10 members, all of them newly elected in 2019, reporting to the scrutiny committee, to look into these matters in the public interest?”
In response, Cllr Ben Ingham, the council leader, said…
A project closure report will be provided to council at the one year anniversary of the project which will include a full project cost analysis and detail of operational costs for the first year of operation of Blackdown House and annual running costs of Exmouth Town Hall.
“If Scrutiny were so minded they could ask to consider the officer report or undertake a piece of work themselves and as Leader I would not want to restrict or pre-empt their independence to set their own forward plan. The Scrutiny Committee is politically balanced and already well placed to do this without the imposition of a working party which is constitutionally unsound in terms of its suggested membership.”
Cllr Arnott said that ahead of the May elections, the East Devon Alliance manifesto on their website saw their page on the relocation project have page views that were ‘streets ahead’ of anything else.
He asked: “Can I be assured that if anyone on scrutiny wanted to commission a piece of work on sale off the Knowle and procurement of this, there would be nothing to stop them?”
Cllr Ingham confirmed if a member of scrutiny wanted to request that, then they could do so.
The EDA website has this posting:
2018: Research Paper on the History of the Knowle Sale
The story of EDDC’s office re-location from Knowle, Sidmouth epitomises the Council’s lack of
transparency, its dubious manipulation of the planning process and its economic incompetence.
It also entailed the loss of an important local public asset, including historic buildings and the best of
a public park.