Save Our Sidmouth

EDDC Relocation..reality check?

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Grim fate for Knowle was the heading given to this letter, published last week, ahead of tonight’s crucial Full Council meeting. It is reproduced here, for those (particularly Sidmouth Councillors) who may like to reflect on it before this evening’s vote on an important relocation matter.

How do EDDC market Knowle? (Sidmouth Herald, 14 February 2014) – ‘Controversial building site for sale – with a proven history of failed planning applications’ ?

Buyers will know they face near unanimous opposition from the residents of Sidmouth. They will have serious conservation issues to overcome, questions over rights of way through the site, and parkland access around it. Not the best start for a prospective developer. Surely no one will say ‘If I can’t get you planning permission, no one will’. So, I suggest, the buyers will simply take their time – it worked at Fortfield. I speculate:

On completion, the developers will erect an unsightly security fence and strip out valuable materials. They will propose controversial developments. Meanwhile, the buildings will slowly dilapidate. They will attract break-ins, and thefts. Knowle will soon be occupied by squatters and rough sleepers, drug and alcohol abusers. And, as at Fortfield, daredevils will ‘play’ in the emptying shell.

Our local police will waste large amounts of time, risking life and limb, to control illicit activities, until they decide the site is too dangerous to police. Similarly, the Fire and Rescue Service will aim to ensure the site safety, but they too will eventually decide it is too dangerous to enter in the event of a fire.

If fires break out, hopefully our Fire Fighters will control these, without loss of life or limb, thereby protecting adjacent properties and parkland. But eventually, our Knowle will dilapidate or burn so that it has to be demolished for safety’s sake. Confronted by a gaping sore on the face of Sidmouth, EDDC planners will eventually pass a contentious planning application. And the people of Sidmouth will be caught by a cynical approach to the planning process, this time initiated by the very Council whose job it is to control that process.

So, historic buildings destroyed, local jobs lost, parkland and wildlife habitats threatened, expensive policing and management by rescue services, lives put at risk – all because the Council leadership wants a prestigious new building that EDDC doesn’t really need and we cannot afford.

By placing the new headquarters at Skypark, on the edge of Exeter, EDDC will undermine its own case for managing the District within the District by people who know the District. East Devon will effectively be managed from Exeter. As a consequence, EDDC could doom its own existence as a layer of administration, long before the new building repays its costs.

Last year I proposed that EDDC might refurbish the modern 1970s offices at Knowle, funded by selling the older buildings for conversion to flats (letters to all Councillors and to the Sidmouth Herald, July and August 2013). I was told by Cllr Twiss that there was insufficient space for that. I then measured the newer buildings from plans provided by EDDC. I showed that there is 40% more modern floorspace than EDDC had claimed, and an area adequate for their needs – EDDC have never given us any factual counter-evidence. I later found a publication by EDDC’s own consultants indicating that, typically, full refurbishment of the modern Knowle plus the council chamber should cost £2.0million-£3.3million to ‘remodel’ or £3.3million-£4.6million to gut and ‘renew’, not the £15million claimed by EDDC (the lower figures are still unchallenged by real, publicly released, EDDC data). The only contribution I got to this debate from Council Leader Diviani was a two-word email (16 August 2013, copied to all Councillors): ‘Fuller’s Folly’.

If anywhere there is folly in this whole sad and sorry story, it is the proposal to sell Knowle (and Manstone and Heathpark) for development; and, with a £4million loan, use the proceeds – which might have been spent on services in East Devon – to build new offices, miles from the centre of the District, right on the edge of Exeter. That seems like sheer lunacy to me.

Robin Fuller,
16 February 2014

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