Around 50 members of the public were present to hear the debate on the office relocation and Cllr Roger Giles motion on the scrutiny function at EDDC.

Cllr Graham Troman had also submitted an amendment to the cabinet recommendations to move closer to selling the Knowle and moving to Honiton and Exmouth. 

Cllr Troman’s proposal was to:
– bring the matter before the overview and scrutiny committee
– bring the matter before the audit and governance committee
– have the internal and external auditors examine the project detail

But after Cllr Troman put his amendment, Leader, Cllr Diviani, admitted that this was a process that was going to happen anyway!

This amendment was voted on very quickly and approved by the council.

I asked for clarification on procedure when I was called to speak, as it was new territory for me to have a competing amendment to a set of recommendations.

My amendment was:
Due to the:
– rapidly escalating costs at a time of financial austerity
– requirement to take out a loan of several million pounds to finance the project
– widespread public concern about the plans
– concern over the accuracy of the predictions concerning energy prices
– high likelihood of local government reorganisation which would probably mean that a new HQ will be redundant

The chief executive told me local government reorganisation was too vague a target to hang the office relocation project on, so I amended it to “after the elections on 7 May.”

My subsequent speech was:
We are just over four months away from the district council elections.

Yet this council seems to be determined to pursue a project to sell off this building and spend millions on alternative accommodation, regardless of how much the bills are stacking up.
Local people have been kept in the dark about important facts.  Most decisions have been made behind closed doors. 

Requests to release minutes in a redacted form have been refused.
Even the Information Commissioner’s ruling to release key documents on the state of the Knowle, has been ignored – at a cost of over £75000 on legal fees alone – an unbudgeted figure. 
And unfortunately this battle is ongoing.  And EDDC blames the the Information Commissioner for it!

The council leader two weeks ago, invited a BBC radio presenter to tour the Knowle and see for himself its condition. An invitation denied to local people, who have been asking for see around the buildings for at least two years.

Back in 2012, we were told that the council would build new offices at Honiton, because it was a central location.

Then that reason was swept away when Skypark suddenly became the favoured option in February.

At the February full council meeting, deeply worried about the rising costs, the Independent group tried in vain to defer the decision to spend vast amounts of taxpayers’ money on negotiating to buy land at Skypark, that in itself cost almost £1m.

But we were shouted down. And voted down.

That seems a long time ago now. We are NOW told that the option of Skypark is unaffordable because the Knowle isn’t worth as much as was originally thought.

So instead, the council is now set to spend £10m on refurbishments and extensions to make suitable Exmouth Town Hall and Honiton Business Centre.

We will also have to borrow something in the region of £5m to fund the relocation project.

And of course we have spent something like £1million ALREADY on preparing to move.

We are told there won’t be any savings for 10 years!

Members of the public across East Devon are horrified and baffled at the enormous amount of money being spent on making other accommodation suitable for staff to inhabit at any time – let alone a time of financial austerity, when our libraries, youth centres and hospitals are at risk of closure.

The calculations on energy assumes that energy prices will rise by 10 per cent every year for 20 years. This is not credible and not in the least bit likely to happen. A government report released last week sets out a FAR lower energy price increase in the coming years.

So the methodology is wrong.

One of the key arguments to sell off the Knowle is that it is inefficient. Yet it carries a creditable C energy rating.  Exmouth Town Hall also holds a C-rating for energy. So why is Exmouth Town Hall viewed as more energy efficient than the Knowle?

We are told that £15m must be spent on the Knowle to bring it up to acceptable standards.  This newly announced figure astounded me and others that I have spoken to and the East Devon Alliance have undertaken some research.

They have found that this figure is £3m MORE than the extensive refurbishment of … A Castle!

– Yes, Castle Drogo, which is deemed by the National Trust as one of its largest ever restoration projects!

There is another complication. There is strong likelihood of local government reorganisation looming on the horizon.

Some final points
Why are we moving and spending a truly breathtaking sum of money on a risky move, at a time of such political uncertainty?

We are just FOUR months away from elections.

In May, there may be a different council, who may have different views on relocating and selling off Knowle.

Pushing ahead with this beleaguered project now is undemocratic and deeply unwise.  The political leadership of the council are behaving like ostriches. Dismissing any argument that is critical of the relocation.

If you vote in favour of the cabinet recommendations this evening, you will be committing the council to yet more money that will be flung down the drain on this unworthy project.

Please vote with your consciences this evening. Defer this project and let’s see what happens after the elections first.
………………………………….. ENDS …………………………………………………………

I didn’t make many notes this evening, but a smattering of memorable moments are below:

– Cllr Susie Bond highlighting the concern about the office relocation at her parish council meetings and being shouted down by the Conservatives, who were all apparently experts on the views of people in Susie’s own ward!
– Cllr Eileen Wragg suggesting that there was a near revolution in the district, and referring to the East Devon Alliance – http://www.eastdevonalliance.org
– Leader, Paul Diviani, saying to me “you are making up figures, young lady,” to which there were groans from the public gallery. I thanked him for calling me young.
– Leader, Paul Diviani, getting riled about members of the public calling out and suggesting that they were naive and childish
– Leader, Paul Diviani, referring to the Knowle as a “dreadful old building.”
– Leader, Paul Diviani, telling members of the public that EDDC was “very good at getting the messages out to people,” to which I agreed and added that the trouble was it was on transmit and not receive.
-Leader, Paul Diviani, admitting that examination of the relocation project by the auditors proposed as a formal amendment by Cllr Troman, was going to happen anyway.

A proposal for a recorded vote was narrowly agreed so there will be a list of names with who voted which way. I lost overwhelmingly. It was supported by just seven votes to 39 against.

But this is a war of attrition and I won’t give up!
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PS. I noted that Cllr Phil Twiss was uncharacteristically silent this evening.