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Knowle:Disappointment in councillors

This letter published in last week’s Sidmouth Herald, sums up the situation as many in SOS see it:

‘Dear Sir,
Many of your readers will have been following the sorry saga that is the Knowle relocation project.
What makes it particularly sorry is how very few Councillors have wanted to challenge the political leadership at EDDC in its blind determination to forge ahead regardless.
And most of this lack of challenge seems to be because of party loyalty.
Yes, we can be grateful for the political independence of the EDDC’s planning committee – when, two years ago, they really probed and finally rejected the last planning application for Knowle.
And yet, whilst it is commendable to see such impartiality at work in the planning committee, it has been pretty disheartening to see how the other parts of the District Council have been wracked by partisan politics over the years.
There has been the general failure to scrutinise from the so-called Scrutiny Committee. At its last meeting, it seemed more than happy to rubber-stamp the latest report commissioned by – and so determined by – the EDDC political leadership.
And at last week’s meeting of the full Council, there was the expected general collapse of will from our Councillors who were content to wave through the sale of Knowle – again at the behest of the political leadership.
Some Sidmouth Councillors did indeed speak out and vote against this decision to sell. But it must not be forgotten that at last December’s full Council meeting, all of our Sidmouth Councillors voted against the proposal to postpone the sale until after the elections.
And all because loyalty to party seems to come first.
How disappointing.
Regards,
Jeremy Woodward, Sidmouth’


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How councillors have damaged chance of best price for Knowle sale.

In another of the questions put to Full Council (25 March 2015), SOS member Jacqueline Green, explained:

‘Mr Chairman,
My question concerns ‘Best Value’, and why I believe Councillors have compromised the relocation team’s bargaining position on the Knowle sale.

An important disclosure made by EDDC last week, is that that it has not agreed Heads of Terms with Pegasus Life Ltd, the preferred buyer for the Knowle site. Councillors were informed about this, only as a result of a question from the public, at the special ‘combined committee meeting’ (Overview & Scrutiny, and Audit & Governance), dedicated to the relocation details.
The disclosure confirms that , although a price for the sale has been agreed, other vital factors have not. For instance, Richard Cohen revealed that ‘overage’ terms have been mentioned, but not fixed. Overage refers to the sums that will be paid by the developer in the event of the site being sold on at a profit, or selling the residential units very successfully. The overage payments and the purchase price are inextricably linked: if you pay more overage, then the purchase price is correspondingly reduced. And vice versa.

So by agreeing to accept the current price, without knowing the overage terms, the members of EDDC have effectively destroyed Richard Cohen’s negotiating position.

Why would Pegasus Life offer any overage, now that members have said they will accept the deal anyway?

Councillors having already approved the sale for “somewhere between £7m and £8m” have created a risky situation, given that they have been told that refurbishment of Exmouth Town Hall will be “in the region of £1m, and the newbuild offices at Honiton “in the region of £7m. Once again, the figures simply do not stack up.’


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A ” huge number of uncertainties and unresolved problems…being glossed over”, yet Council has approved EDDC office relocation.

SOS Chair, Richard Thurlow, clearly explained those “uncertainties and unresolved problems” in his speech (copied below) to Full Council last week (Weds 25th March). The points were unanswered at the meeting, and remain so.

Councillors

The public have not been permitted to have other than a superficial view of the costings which make up the attempt to persuade that Relocation is cost neutral. Councillors and the public have to take the results as presented without understanding or knowing the processes involved, or appreciating the range of sensitivity of the output.

It is likely that the review undertaken by Grant Thornton and Gleeds is technically competent within the parameters given to them.. This is more than I can say for all the work undertaken by your DCEO, which has been characterised by wrong data, erroneous calculations and embarrassing u-turns.

The problem with all such analyses is that the results are highly dependent on the quality and sufficiency of the data used and the validity of any predictions. Slight changes in both can make significant differences in the results.

This is very important to understand. In this case, the review has come up with a single result.. namely a stated cost and betterment over 20 years. I am surprised to see that there is no attempt to quantify a range of costs and benefits depending on whether the input such as the costs of energy, are higher, or lower than those assumed. This is a weakness, as it implies that the single result is mathematically and financially correct. This is not so.

In addition, Grant Thornton/Gleeds say, and I quote;-
2.4 The conclusions are based solely on the results of the Model and therefore do not consider any qualitative aspects of the options, and nor have we considered the extent to which the office relocation project will meet the Council’s service or efficiency aspirations/objectives.

This is telling you that the financial equation stacks up, but not whether the relocation project is good, or bad, or meets your objectives.

We firmly believe that the project is bad , that it ignores a number of issues and we don’t think that it meets your objectives. There are a huge number of uncertainties and unresolved problems which are being glossed over.

You should ask yourselves the following questions:-

• Are you really happy that all various options for moving were considered? Various options have been assessed against a highly biased one of using the whole of the Knowle and basically doing nothing to it except some urgent repairs, repairs which have been purposefully neglected over the past few years. The option of using and modestly improving the “new Building” at the Knowle and a refurbished building at EXMOUTH has not been considered This is a serious omission.
• Are you really happy with the disposal of an asset worth £9-10m, (the land alone is worth £7-8m), to provide assets which are acknowledged to be worth £3.25m at Honiton and £0.9m at Exmouth ? a total of £4m. This is just throwing money away.
• Are you really happy about taking out a loan for over £9.25m for several years. When the future is so unclear? And carry over a loan of £2.1 m for 20 years?
• Have you really thought about the costs and difficulties of “Customer orientated mobile working practices, the Worksmart programme and mobile hubs”? What does this mean? The introduction of IT systems and practices are notoriously difficult to plan, cost and implement. Huge cost overruns are usual.

This is probably the most important decision that EDDC will make; it is being rushed through with indecent haste, at the fag end of an administration that may well change significantly.

I would ask to question the various assumptions inherent in the proposal to relocate, and reject it.

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