Cross party majority squashes Independent Group councillors proposal to delay council relocation

Conservatives and Liberal Democrats unite in favour of continuing sale of Knowle sale and office move

At an Extraordinary meeting of East Devon District Council last night (3 June 2015), Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors voted by a resounding majority in favour of rejecting a motion initiated by 15 Independent Group councillors who were seeking to suspend the council’s office relocation.

The cross party vote - made by 38 Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors, versus 15 Independent Group councillors and one Liberal Democrat councillor - effectively squashed the motion to delay East Devon’s moving plans. Most importantly, it ensures that the council can continue to progress its relocation, which incorporates the sale of Knowle in Sidmouth and a move to new purpose-built  offices in Honiton and modernised accommodation in Exmouth.

Conservative Councillor Tom Wright requested that the vote be recorded.

Full council, backed by Cabinet, together with Overview & Scrutiny and Audit & Governance committees, as well as external auditors the South West Audit Partnership (SWAP) have all rigorously reviewed, debated and considered numerous detailed reports and are all in agreement that relocation is the best way forward for the council and ultimately the people it serves.

Further endorsement has been given by an increasing number of the 365 staff at Knowle (24% of whom are Sidmouth residents), who as the latest internal feedback has shown, are keen to get on with the move.

Economic benefits

Commenting on the overwhelming vote in favour of the council continuing with its Moving and Improving Project, Councillor Paul Diviani, Leader of East Devon District Council said:

As was demonstrated by the election results, this move is what the majority of people of East Devon are clearly in favour of. However, it was only democratic that these councillors, whose main issue has always been to oppose the office move, were given the opportunity to air their concerns again about the relocation project.

So yet again, we have debated – with fairness and propriety -proposals that were already agreed upon and, yet again, a majority vote has served to underline that sound economic common sense must prevail and we will now be able to pursue a forward thinking path that will lead to East Devon doing what any good council should, which is to modernise and transform its way of working in order to find the necessary savings that will ensure it is able to meet any fiscal challenges placed before it.

Office moves – particularly those in the public sector  – are always contentious. There are a lot of people to please, after all. But the savings that we will make more than justify the decision to move.

It is abundantly clear that by staying at the Knowle, we will incur more costs, which will lead to staff and service cuts. How can this be deemed progress? Our duty is to the taxpayer and a modern council with modern offices and up to date working practices will serve East Devon’s residents far more efficiently and ultimately will place less burden on the tax payer.

Savings

To stay at Knowle will cost a further £3.9m when all the running costs and minor repairs are taken into consideration.  Taking all the costs into account, using the sale proceeds saves £2.8m over a 20 year period. Most importantly, after 20 years, the loan will be paid off.
On a direct comparison of operational expenditure between the existing Knowle buildings (with no refurbishment) and the Honiton/Exmouth offices, East Devon District Council will save £6m over 20 years by moving.

In tandem with the sale of the Knowle site, the council will borrow £2.1m over 20 years.  This is much less than the council would need to borrow to try to do even minimum repairs to Knowle, let alone any modernisation.

Benefits to Sidmouth

Although Sidmouth will be losing the council, the town will benefit from the new residential facilities, which will create additional employment opportunities as well as spending by the new Knowle residents. The council will be contracting multi-million pound construction work across two locations in the district and will be continuing to use local supplies and services. In addition, Sidmouth Town Council is to be gifted ownership of the Knowle’s parkland, which will provide immediate as well as long lasting amenity benefits to the people of Sidmouth.

Provisional relocation/Knowle sale timetable

This overall timetable is for guidance only as it may be subject to delay, depending on planning related matters.

  • June 2015 – East Devon is due to exchange contracts with Pegasus Life Ltd - the developer which has been selected to purchase and develop Knowle. Pegasus specialises in providing retirement homes and extra care facilities, for which there is huge demand in Sidmouth.
  • July 2015 – design team due to be appointed.
  • September 2015 –construction contractor due to be appointed.
  • May 2016 – Heathpark and Exmouth (if necessary) planning applications to be considered.
  • June 2016 – Pegasus planning application to be considered.
  • July 2016 - Council will review planning decisions.
  • August 2016 – Work due to begin on Heathpark and Exmouth town hall.
  • October 2017 – Council due to move offices.