• Campaigners stage surprise protest against EDDC secrecy

    30th October 2013 | News | Claire
  • I am awaiting a review of my freedom of information request decision, to release minutes of meetings on the subject of the office move, in a redacted form. So far EDDC has refused to publish them because they say they are commercially sensitive and would be meaningless with redactions. This decision is currently being reviewed by senior officers.


    Campaigners against the relocation of East Devon District Council’s headquarters from its historic Sidmouth base, surprised councillors this afternoon with a demonstration against a private meeting to discuss the move.

    Around two dozen members of the East Devon Alliance and Save Our Sidmouth turned-up at the council chamber at Knowle ahead of the full council meeting, brandishing placards bearing slogans such as “Save Knowle Park” and “EDDC – Open? Transparent? What a joke” and chanting “no more secret meetings”.

    Organisers said they were protesting against the “secrecy” they believe surrounds the issue of the council’s planned move from Knowle.

    But a council spokesperson said that the matter was discussed in private because it contained some “commercially sensitive” information and the council has organised an open meeting with key stakeholders next Friday, November 8, at 11.30am at the East Devon Business Centre, Honiton.

    The spokesperson said that it was usual for councillors to be briefed in confidence before matters are made public so they are “properly informed” and able to answer their constituents questions.

    One campaigner, Tony Green, said: “The way the council operates is scandalous, it’s usual method of operation is secrecy, and this meeting is an example of that. The whole Knowle move project has bene shrouded in secrecy with decisions being made by a small group of people.

    “Within both campaign groups there is a wealth of professional competence including statisticians, engineers, barristers and planners who believe the data the council is using to justify the move is flawed.”

    The campaign groups recently voiced concerns that the council’s proposed sell-off of its aging offices would not be as cost-neutral as the authority hopes.

    But on the back of various surveys and assessments, deputy chief executive Richard Cohen said the council would save tens of thousands of pounds a year if its offices moved from the premises into a newer building.

    Following the unanimous agreement by the council’s cabinet for the authority to relocate, Mr Cohen is exploring potential sites in Honiton and Cranbrook.

    But campaigners have said it’s “common sense” that moving is less financially viable than down sizing and doing-up its current premises and have accused the council of being “secretive” over the whole matter.

    A council spokesperson, said: “Following a decision in July by Council to relocate, a group of Members and Officers have been considering and weighing up all the site options that have come forward.

    “Having carefully checked all the potential sites against the selection criteria, we now have a shortlist of four potentially viable options to be considered by Cabinet on November 27, and later by Full Council.

    “In line with EDDC’s pledge to keep the public informed, there will be a second stakeholder briefing on Friday, November 8, when details of the shortlisted sites will be made available, followed by a Press Release.

    “To ensure that elected members of the Council are updated on progress before before site locations are made generally available, a briefing session has been arranged for this afternoon (Wednesday 30 October). This briefing will contain some confidential information which is commercially sensitive.

    “It is routine practice for elected Members to be briefed about important matters before information is made public, so that Members are properly informed and able to answer any questions they may be asked by their constituents.

    “EDDC remains committed to sharing as much information as possible with the public at each stage of the process.”