This letter has been sent to the Exmouth Journal, countering a Conservative councillor’s letter about relocation, which was published in that newspaper last week:
A response to Councillor Tom Wright’s letter is essential. He demonstrates EDDC councillors’ continuing inability to understand basic issues and he hopes that bland statements and unsubstantiated opinions can overcome the obvious shortcomings of EDDC’s proposed move from the Knowle. Let’s help him to understand those issues.
The facts are:
• EDDC chose Sidmouth for its HQ after the 1973 local government re-organisation. Modern and EDDC-approved extensions were built in the 70s and 80s.
• After a major review in 2001/2002 EDDC confirmed that it should remain at the Knowle because:
o It was central for the district, easily accessible by public transport from all the remaining towns and that considerable sums had already been spent in shutting outlying offices and depots.
o The Knowle allowed any necessary expansion .
o Refurbishment of nearly £4 million was implemented. The then- Conservative leader said that the building should never again be allowed to fall into disrepair but soon, regular planned maintenance ceased.
• An estimate in 2014 by EDDC’s advisers on Relocation suggested that some £1.5 million, to remedy defects, would enable the building “to be occupied for the next five years”. These repairs resulted from “the failure to carry out maintenance in previous years”, (their words).
• EDDC maintains it only needs an area marginally larger than the existing “new” Knowle buildings but no really detailed investigation has been undertaken to and extend the “new” building and sell older parts.
• The Skypark option collapsed when EDDC discovered that they lacked sufficient money to fund it and that they had overlooked statutory regulations on tendering.
• £705,000 has already been allocated and mainly spent on relocation fees despite the desperate need to fund other services.
• EDDC sums for the move do not make sense. The costs of the new Honiton building and the refurbished Exmouth building, plus other essential spend, will total more than £15m- in these times of austerity.
• EDDC plans to borrow £5.5m over 20 years for the move and claims that energy cost savings will make the move “cost neutral”. Informed commentators have ridiculed these energy saving estimates which are five times higher than government’s own predictions.
• Only a few chosen councillors know the financial breakdown for the Knowle sale, the costs of new and refurbished offices and all the other associated costs, yet other councillors continue to vote it through.
EDDC is secretive, responds tardily to FOI requests and even objected to the Information Commissioner’s ruling to release some reports prepared by their consultants. £7,500 has been spent on a barrister to appeal against this ruling.
The relocation, a Conservative-supported vanity project, is opposed by many councillors, including the Independent Claire Wright, the prospective Parliamentary candidate for East Devon who has long-since been an outspoken critic. Even the current Conservative MP, Hugo Swire urges EDDC to delay the relocation exercise because of uncertainties on the future of Local Government and the loss of 250 jobs to Honiton.
Any move, a disaster for which we would all pay over 20 years, cannot be justified by emotional, vague and unsubstantiated views.
Chair, Save Our Sidmouth