• Options for Knowle move will be debated at cabinet

    9th July 2013 | News | Claire
  • OPTIONS for the future of East Devon District Council’s offices will be debated on Wednesday 17 July.

    EDDC’s Cabinet will consider a report outlining all the options available to the Council, which include staying at Knowle with reconfigured or rebuilt offices or moving to an alternative location.
    The full report is viewable on EDDC’s website at: http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/cabinet_agenda_170713_-_public_version.pdf

    Officers are recommending that Knowle options are not pursued further because of the high costs of maintenance, refurbishment or a new building on the site and instead to formally explore new sites with a particular focus on opportunities in Honiton or Cranbrook.

    The Council continues to pledge that any move will not add to the Council Tax and will help to reduce the running costs of the Council in the future.

    In addition, the report asks councillors to confirm the objective of handing over the Knowle Park public space to Sidmouth Town Council as part of any relocation plan.

    EDDC are also planning to set up a district-wide Stakeholder Group to share and discuss the relocation process and look at the ways customer contact and services are provided. The special stakeholder meeting on 26 July could be the first step towards setting up this new group.

    Down the drain

    Council Leader Paul Diviani says: “All the evidence suggests that trying to stay at Knowle is like pouring taxpayers’ money down the drain. The current buildings need over £1.5M spending on them in essential repairs alone – but even then the running costs will be huge.

    The alternatives of using just the Victorian buildings, with considerable refurbishment, or building new office blocks on the site and sharing the site with some residential uses are prohibitively expensive.

    “Exploring Honiton and Cranbrook options as well as others that may arise can give us the opportunity to provide modern offices which are low cost to run and give taxpayers across East Devon value for money. New ways of working will allow us to have more of our staff mobile and out in the district.  We are committed to retaining a significant office presence in Exmouth and making ourselves available in our other towns as well.

    “The reality is the majority of our customers do not visit us in person but instead choose to deal with the Council by phone or email. We want to make this as easy as possible for people and expand the number of services that people can access through these methods.”

    Potential sites
    The two sites being looked at in Honiton are a site on Church Hill and the Council’s own Heathpark site. Church Hill has the advantages of being a well connected, central location but it is currently in use. Heathpark is a simpler proposition because it is already owned by the Council although it is not especially central. 

    Any move to Heathpark would see new offices being located next to the existing business centre

    Cranbrook was originally ruled out because it seemed unlikely that the town would be developed enough when a move might be anticipated. However with Cranbrook High Street moving forward apace and a revised timetable for any Knowle move following the delays over recent months it is now considered worth exploring. 

    Cranbrook sites are on the high street and have good connectivity by bus, rail and road although it is in the western part of the district which means that the Council will also have to be mobile and available across our towns.  Other sites may also come forward in future and the Council will consider these as well.

    A number of options for Knowle have been considered. The “do nothing” option would see over £1.5M needing to be spent on essential repairs to the current buildings and the continued drain on council finances from buildings which are very expensive to run, energy inefficient and inadequate for running modern services.

    The Council also looked at three other options. Option 1 would retain the Victorian building, spending large sums to bring it up to modern standards and sharing some of the space with residential development, demolishing the newer office blocks for car parking and building homes on the former upper car park and Manstone Depot sites.

    Option 2 would be to build new offices and car parks on the site of the current offices and homes on the other two sites.

    Option 3 would be to build new offices on the upper car park, using an extended lower car park for parking and build homes on the site of the Victorian building and the depot site.

    However, sharing the site with the Council offices and associated traffic is unlikely to be attractive to any residential developer and therefore any cash realised from such an approach would fall far short of what is required by the Council to stick to its commitment not to add a burden to taxpayers.

    Planning issues
    The Council has just proposed minor changes to its draft Local Plan, which will be considered on Thursday 18 July. These would include changes to the originally proposed development boundary of Knowle.

    Under this scenario, if the Council were to move from Knowle to new premises it would seek to sell the Knowle site and Manstone depot to achieve the best financial outcome and deliver over 40% of any development as affordable homes.

    This approach balances a significant housing delivery of both private and affordable homes for Sidmouth and provides enough money to fund the relocation.
    Next steps

    If the Cabinet accept the officers’ recommendations the next step will be to do further work on investigating the alternative sites and bring a detailed report on negotiations around those options back to Cabinet and Full Council.