The Relocation lead officer, Richard Cohen, reporting last night to EDDC’s Cabinet meeting at Knowle, found himself roundly rebuked by Cllr Cathy Gardner (East Devon Alliance, EDA) for his subjective stance. Cllr Gardner was “shocked to hear Mr Cohen being scathing about the Development Management Committee (DMC) decision”, as these comments were wholly inappropriate for an officer’s report. She was certainly not the only one to think so.
Referring to the DMC’s refusal of the PegasusLife planning application for Knowle (6th December 2016) , “We have been stymied twice” was the turn of phrase chosen by Mr Cohen, who is also EDDC’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer. “You languish in old buildings’, he told councillors. He appeared to belittle the DMC’s decision, describing the refusal as “purely about planning”, “because of a listed curiosity”, and “arguments about Care Provision”.
The outcome of yesterday’s Cabinet meeting was an agreement to “decouple’ the twin aspirations to relocate to Exmouth and to Honiton. In a unanimous vote, it was decided to fast-track the refurbishment of Exmouth Town Hall (despite estimated costs having already increased by almost 70% , and borrowing being necessary) to provide a new ‘hub’ , accomodating 90 new desks for staff.
The mood was more muted about Honiton. Uncertainty about PegasusLife’s future intentions regarding Knowle, could continue, according to Richard Cohen, for around 6 months. In any case, delay in obtaining finance for newbuild offices at Heathpark is inevitable.
So the Council has turned its focus on how best to manage its office space at Knowle, acknowledging the site’s “potential capital appreciation”. The intention is to identify areas that “can be mothballed”, although Richard Cohen’s comment that Knowle’s “more modern buildings are in a more decrepit state ” than the former hotel, was somewhat surprising.
Next week’s Full Council Meeting (21 December, 6.30pm, Knowle) has the DMC report on its agenda. There are sure to be more, probing, questions to answer on this emerging relocation rejig.