Save Our Sidmouth

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Council’s ‘final decision’ to relocate: SOS comment, and update on Tribunal

Message from Chair of Save Our Sidmouth, Richard Thurlow :

‘Whilst we are naturally disappointed by the decision to relocate, it was not unexpected. East Devon District Council has an overwhelming majority of one party and is dominated by a Cabinet of strong views and persuasions.The rest of the majority party follow the leadership, even when the last incumbent local MP is against the move.

Save Our Sidmouth has two main areas of concern about the relocation project: implications for the District, and for the Town:

With regard to the District, we are concerned that
• There is a great loss in capital assets. Land and property worth nearly £10m is being traded for a property in Honiton worth as an asset about £3.25 m, all to save a hypothetical sum of £6m in operating costs over 20 years (these are EDDC’s own figures).
• Large loans, (£9.5m for several years and then £2.1m for 20 years), are being taken to finance the move.
• All predictions over these durations are highly conjectural and likely to be wrong.
• There will be a probable reorganisation of Local Government in the near future which will render the relocation project meaningless.
• There will almost certainly be a change in EDDC political makeup in May 2015, which may change EDDC’s attitude to relocation.
• Inefficiencies are likely to result from having a HQ in two places (Honiton and Exmouth).
• The relocation argument focuses on the as yet untried “Mobile working, WORKSMART initiatives, and Mobile Hubs”, all of which could fail and not provide the promised efficiencies.
• There has been no real effort on the part of EDDC, (apart from a cursory blanket-costing), of the option of using the newer building at the Knowle. This was in truth ruled out by EDDC from the start.
• The chosen developer has been approved by EDDC without negotiating ‘Heads of Terms’ which means that the developer is in a very strong negotiating position.

With regard to Sidmouth we are concerned over
• the loss of 300 professional jobs, with over 80 of those coming from Sidmouth
• the loss of over £1m in local income from the relocation of the current HQ, (EDDC own figures)
• the loss of parkland and terraces outside the building footprint, which will severely damage the visual aspects and deny the public a right to enter.

In all of their dealings with the public, EDDC have demonstrated arrogance, and disregard for real discussions with the public, real consultation, and public opinion. This may well be demonstrated in the forthcoming decision by the First Tier Tribunal (EDDC vs Information Commissioner & Jeremy Woodward)*, where the judgement could be that EDDC must release data, a decision that they have been fighting for over two years at a cost of well over £10,000, for QC’s fees.

Although the decision has been to relocate we intend to continue with our fight, and we have some real opportunities to stop the relocation.

Firstly, we have taken legal opinion regarding EDDC’s land grabbing of the terrace land and are considering our options.
Secondly, the Knowle Residents’Association has submitted an application to have the parkland registered as an Asset of Community Value**.
Thirdly, Devon County Council has been asked to register public rights of way through the upper terraces, based on public usage. EDDC has objected to this and we will have an opportunity to make our case for the registration in a Public Inquiry which will take place in September.
Fourthly, the chosen developer still has to apply for planning permission for the development, and SOS will resist this to the maximum degree.

*29/04/2015 After months of  delays and ‘complications’, the Tribunal’s decision is expected ‘very soon’

** Asset of Community Value.  EDDC has initially rejected this application as being unsatisfactory. Knowle Residents’ Association and Save Our Sidmouth are currently in negotiation with EDDC with a view to submitting an improved plan. More news will be posted when available.

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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.
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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