Save Our Sidmouth

Five years on, and Knowle relocation options remain undecided, leaving the financial risk unclear.

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East Devon District Council has today issued the following press release:

08 November 2013

EDDC closes in on new office site

FOLLOWING the Council’s decision in July to relocate, four locations have now been short-listed as the possible home for East Devon District Council’s new offices. The short-list was produced by elected Members scoring the 15 possible sites against a set of desired outcomes (see bulleted tick list below).

Councillors were briefed on the locations – Cranbrook, Skypark, Winslade Park and Heathpark – at the end of October and a stakeholder group heard about the options at a meeting today (Friday 8 November).

Among those invited were representatives from Chambers of Commerce, community organisations, neighbouring local authorities and pressure groups. Also invited were representatives from every town and parish council in the district.

Desired outcomes for the new office accommodation include:

Financial viability: ‘fit for purpose’, flexible and functional accommodation that places no extra burden on tax payers
Other financial issues: including the potential for additional income and financial risks
Open for Business: somewhere viable for a modern forward looking council offering services that are accessible for all our customers and working practices that mean they can access services in the ways that suit them best
Environmentally friendly: an energy-efficient building meeting high design and BREEAM environmental standards
Statutory issues: including the economic and social impacts and benefits and alignment with the draft Local Plan
Other issues: including those that could cause delays and the location of the new headquarters to nearby buildings and uses.

CRANBROOK TOWN CENTRE

This site would be purchased from the developers of the new community. Among the benefits of this purpose-built option are affordability, its possible co-location with library and town council facilities,
being a town centre site with good road and rail connections plus on-site parking, the existence of high street services including shops, the positive impact of operating from within a new community,
potential for car parking income and the attractiveness of the site for any possible future resale.

The site would benefit from being part of Cranbrook’s district heating system and would be served by the future Cranbrook railway Station.

This site is one of several situated to the west of the district, meaning that the Council would need to pay special attention to accessibility both electronically and through a presence in other town(s).

As with the other two non-Heathpark sites, it would necessitate the building of an East Devon Business Centre in another location.

HEATHPARK, HONITON

This site has, from the start, been considered as a possible home for the new offices. It is still a strong contender, as the land is owned by the Council, so saving on purchase costs.

Another advantage is that the East Devon Business Centre could be retained so wouldn’t need to be rebuilt elsewhere.

Other plus points are the location of the site, in a fairly central position within the district, the availability of on-site parking and its close proximity to a railway station and the dual carriageway A30 route across the district.

It’s also possible that further costs would be incurred as a contribution to highway improvements that would be necessary if the site is developed. Whilst the East Devon Business Centre would not need to be rebuilt, the downside of this is the lost opportunity to house the centre in a more modern, future-proofed building.

Heathpark is an out-of-town location and the surrounding buildings are of either light industrial or retail use.

EDDC has received a number of bids for this site. If it were to be sold for commercial or retail use, those funds could help finance a build elsewhere.

There is another site on Heathpark in Honiton that could be included in the mix. However, this site cannot be identified for commercial reasons at the moment. Details will be released if the site becomes a serious contender.

SKYPARK

Skypark is a large business park that will be gradually developed by St Modwen over the next few years, providing up to 1.4 million square feet of commercial and office space.

This site is in a prominent position with good road connections, whilst it is also within reasonable reach of the future Cranbrook rail Station. It too benefits from being served by the district heating network.

Being another non-Heathpark site, it would require the building elsewhere of a new East Devon Business Centre. Consideration needs to be given to the possibility that its closeness to Exeter Airport might pose noise issues and since the site is a large development area there could be disruption caused by ongoing building works.

Skypark is also situated at the Western end of the district, posing the same accessibility issues mentioned in the Cranbrook summary.

CLYST HOUSE, WINSLADE PARK

This site is just a stone’s throw from the junction of the A3052 and the A376 at Clyst St Mary, close to the border with Exeter and a short distance from Junction 30 of the M5. Clyst House is an existing office building that is on the market.

The buildings are in good condition and would require refurbishment, modernisation and a new internal layout to make them suitable for occupation by EDDC.

The size of the buildings and the layout of the available site includes garage and storage facilities as well as offices. There might also be space for a business centre. The site also has 237 parking spaces. A bonus would be the reduction of around one year in the time taken for this site to be ready for EDDC to move its operation over from Knowle, as compared with the new-build options.

The existing buildings are bigger than EDDC’s stated requirements and so the extra space would need to be let to other users to avoid the Council incurring higher running costs. Conversion would be able to take the buildings to BREEAM Very Good but probably not the Excellent standard that could be expected from a new build. Clyst House is some distance from the main road and bus stops. But there is good road access to the rest of the district.

Clyst House is at the Western end of the district and so consideration would need to be given to customer access via a possible physical presence in other town(s). A new site might also need to be found for the East Devon Business Centre.

What happens next

Cabinet Members and representatives of all three political groups on EDDC will spend some time visiting the shortlisted locations on 18 November to see for themselves the individual characteristics of each site. At that time they will also hear more about the different issues and opportunities that each site offers.

A report will go to Cabinet on 27 November with recommendations on the next steps and it is hoped that a decision on the preferred site will be made within a matter of weeks of that date.

EDITOR’S NOTES

How we got to where we are

The possibility of leaving Knowle for a new location has been on the cards for a number of years, due to a combination of rising costs and falling revenues. These factors not only still apply today, but are even more relevant.

The move was first seriously mooted in 2008, when then Council Leader Sara Randall Johnson asked one of the directors to start looking at the options for moving to a fresh site and to consider the impact that selling Knowle would have on these ideas.

Work continued in the background for a couple of years but the idea did not start to gain real momentum until cuts in government funding really started to bite.

In July 2011 EDDC’s Cabinet called for a Project Team to investigate a self-financing move from Knowle to purpose-built offices elsewhere – possibly in Honiton. Early in 2012, EDDC appointed a Project Manager dedicated to the venture.

There followed three communication events in Sidmouth where the possible move was discussed with residents. It was decided that the best way to understand the value of Knowle was to apply for planning permission.

In August 2012, EDDC published more detail of its relocation proposals and a planning application was drawn up showing how the Knowle campus might be redeveloped to fund the move. The application was turned down by EDDC’s Development Management Committee in March 2013.

The Project Team then took a long hard look at how the move might still be delivered and more data was published to explain the financial and other benefits of moving to new offices. In July this year, both Cabinet and Full Council voted to actively seek a new location for EDDC’s headquarters, a decision that was explained to the first Stakeholder Group meeting on 26 July.

The Deputy Chief Executive and Project Manager were instructed by councillors to carry out a further site search exercise. A total of 15 proposals were received.

The relocation Executive group, made up of Councillor Paul Diviani (Leader), Councillor Andrew Moulding (Deputy Leader), Councillor Ray Bloxham (Corporate Business), Councillor David Cox (Finance) and a small number of senior officers, met on 2 October. Members scored the long-list against the selection criteria and shortlisted four potential locations.

The results of those deliberations were reported confidentially to a cross-party meeting of councillors on 30 October and the latest thinking was outlined to the Stakeholder Group on 8 November. Tenants of the East Devon Business Centre were also briefed on the latest developments in a separate meeting on 8 November.

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