• 10 questions, six non-answers, and an angry leader

    7th December 2012 | News | Claire
  • And why did my supplementary questions cause the leader, Cllr Paul Diviani, to become so angry with me?

    I arrived just before 6pm, on the basis I would have to assimilate quite a bit of information and decide on suitable supplementary questions for each, in a short space of time.

    My written questions are below, accompanied by the written replies.  I have also included the five corresponding supplementary questions and answers:

    1. Please provide a detailed estimate of the full costs of relocation of the EDDC Offices from The Knowle to Honiton.  Please include all anticipated expenditure and income including planning application fees and associated costs, consultation fees, how much has been borrowed and interest payments on any borrowing?

    Answer – The question is far too wide ranging in its remit to permit an accurate answer at the present time, particularly bearing in mind that this is an ongoing project wherein a number of matters are still being assessed/re-evaluated.  However the information which we have confirmed to date includes the following: services in connection with the relocation project have cost the Council £200,112 (excluding VAT) as at 3 December 2012.

    Supplementary question
    Has this council made a forecast of total costs associated with the move?

    Supplementary answer
    £350,000 (said without further explanation, accompanied by a distinct note of irritation)

    2. Please provide a detailed breakdown of all expenditure (as set out above) that has taken place to date on the relocation project.
    Answer – Please see details given below. 

    Planning project and Architectural Services £132,771
    Topographical surveys   £3,700
    Tree surveys   £3,365
    Ecology surveys   £6,320
    Flood risk assessment   £2,210
    Traffic statement   £4,630
    Geo-environmental studies   £2,700
    Economic impact assessment   £11,868
    Commercial Land Valuations   £9,324
    Planning Consultant   £9,522
    EDDC Direct costs:
    Employment costs   £3,450
    Planning Fee   £8,565
    Room Hire       £92
    Transport costs     £125
    Supplies and services   £1,470

    Supplementary question
    Precisely, when and how will the decision to move be taken?

    Supplementary answer
    “If you had done your homework and looked on the website you would have found out the answer.  This has taken up a lot of officer time.”  (Snappy and irritable tone and I did not remind him that many of the answers on the website are too vague as to be helpful).

    3. Please provide a detailed breakdown of the essential annual repair costs for The Knowle for the last five years.

    Answer – Please refer to the Council’s website and particularly the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section of the relocation project.  Previous year end budget reports and statement of accounts have also provided councillors and the public with all the information we have.

    4. Please provide details of the essential anticipated repair cost for The Knowle, for the next five years, in the event that the relocation does not take place.

    Answer – Please refer to the Council’s website, the FAQ section and also the recent East Devon Extra.

    5. Please provide details of the projected build costs, equipment and furnishing costs for the new offices at Honiton.

    Answer – Please refer to the Council’s website and details provided as previously indicated.

    6. Please provide dates of all office relocation working group meetings.

    Answer – The Working Party meets every two months; Councillors have access to this information. Meetings held to date: 2 February, 6 April, 19 October, 29 November 2011 and 31 January, 27 March, 30 May, 18 July, 12 September and 7 November 2012.

    Any decisions required on relocation have been the subject of Cabinet reports, namely –

    13.07.11 Knowle Office Review
    30.11.11 Office relocation (plus Appendices 1 and 2)
    7.03.12 Office relocation – up-date including a request for exemption from Standing Orders (considered in Part A)
    2.05.12 Office relocation – appointment of architectural services, exemption from Standing Orders.
    5.09.12 EDDC Office relocation up-date – Budget costings and Relocation Project, Planning Advice – Exemption from Standing Orders.

    An up-date report was also referred to Overview and Scrutiny Committee during the year.

    7. What is the justification for non-publication of the minutes of the office relocation group meetings?

    Answer – As recorded in the minutes, the information has been deemed to be exempt at this stage.

    Supplementary question
    Can this information be made available by publishing the minutes with suitable redactions to overcome any commercial sensitivity?

    Supplementary answer
    “NO!”  (I have written this in capitals because it was barked out angrily, with Cllr Diviani sitting down again immediately).

    I asked the chairman, Cllr Peter Halse, if he would intervene as Cllr Diviani had not elaborated as to why this was not possible, but the chairman said I had received my answer.

    8. What advice did the Chairman of the Development Management Committee seek from the legal officer prior to the committee reaching a decision on planning application 12/0928/OUT (Kelly Lynch) on October 16th?

    Answer – I am aware that the questioner has been a vociferous supporter of the planning applicant and also that this matter has apparently gone to appeal. In the circumstances this is not an appropriate question to ask or to answer.

    Supplementary question
    Chairman, am I not entitled to an answer to this question because, I have been labelled as a ‘vociferous supporter’ of the applicant?

    Supplementary answer
    “If you read the answer you will see that it is because of an appeal!”  (still snappy and irritable sounding).

    9. How many instances have there been in the last five years of a planning application being approved at Development Management Committee meeting, and exactly the same planning application being subsequently being refused at a Development Management Committee meeting?

    Answer – Please see answer given above. I can confirm that this matter was dealt with as a departure from the Local Plan and therefore the questioner may want to review the question in the light of this.

    Supplementary question
    Chairman, I have asked a legitimate question I believe I am entitled to a legitimate answer, there is no reason whatsoever to deny me an answer to this question, it is simply seeking to establish a fact.  Does this council know the answer?

    Supplementary answer
    “It isn’t appropriate to comment because of the legal situation.”

    Cllr Roger Giles question
    What consultation has taken place with staff and staff representatives about the proposed relocation of the EDDC offices from The Knowle to Honiton?  What were the results of such consultations?

    Answer – The corporate organisational development manager and relocation project manager have undertaken four facilitated staff workshops regarding the possible relocation.  The consensus in support of the relocation was four to one.

    Supplementary question
    Does the Council Leader think that an anonymous questionnaire sent to all members of staff would have produced a different answer than that obtained by seeking the views of staff at “facilitated workshops?”

    Supplementary answer
    “No, I don`t. The workshops were carried out by a very competent member of staff.”