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Knowle move ‘will cost Sidmouth 71 jobs over decade’

PUBLISHED: 10:45 18 January 2013 | UPDATED: 10:45 18 January 2013

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An updated independent assessment of the economic impact of East Devon District Council’s proposals to relocate its main offices has been released for public consultation.

It comes as the council confirms its Outline Planning Application for Knowle will be determined by councillors on Friday 01 March.

For two weeks from today (Friday, January 18) a freshly revised Economic Impact Assessment by Peter Brett Associates will be available to view online at http://planning.eastdevon.gov.uk/ as part of the supporting documents for the council’s Outline Planning Application to redevelop the Knowle site. During this time people will be able to comment on the Assessment, which sets out how the proposals might affect the local economy, especially in Sidmouth.

The council is inviting comment on it as part of the consultation on its Outline Planning Application for Knowle, which is expected to be determined by councillors on the Development Management Committee on Friday 01 March. It is also writing to everyone who has previously commented on the application, inviting them to review the updated and final Economic Impact Assessment and let the council know if it affects their previous comments on the planning application.

The document is just one of 29 pieces of evidence relating to the proposals, drawn up as the council does its homework on the possibility of moving. No decision on whether to move has been taken by the council, and an eventual decision will depend on many things, including the financial viability which is currently being assessed. The council has said it will only move if it is ‘self funding’ and does not cost local taxpayers money. It is considering the possibility partly because the cost of Knowle is spiralling, with urgent repairs alone estimated to cost more than £1M of taxpayers’ money if an alternative isn’t found.

Importantly the document can only provide an informed estimate of issues such as job losses, as predicting these trends over 10 years is not an exact science and depends on lots of different factors. It does however help inform the overall worst-case estimate of the impact of the move.*

The final Economic Impact Assessment includes a number of changes following Peter Brett Associates’ careful review of the data to satisfy the stringent requirements of the council’s planning arm. There is more information provided to help clarify and illustrate the statistics to ensure that the data is as consistent and robust as it can be given the predictive nature of the worst-case estimates. The most notable revision is that job losses in Sidmouth over a ten year period are predicted to be 71. This has changed from a previous estimate of 59, although the report notes that many of these are likely to occur through natural change over the decade as Sidmouth residents find other work or choose to retire.

The report also highlights the likely impact on Sidmouth’s 500+ local businesses as relatively small, noting most of the businesses as small but adaptable to change. Of those businesses interviewed for the study, over three quarters saw no need to change their business operations or plans because of the proposals.

Cllr Andrew Moulding, Deputy Leader of East Devon District Council said: “This independent and impartial report is a piece of the larger picture which will help inform the decisions the council makes going forward. It has been prepared with great care, responding to feedback from our planners and members of the public who challenged certain aspects of the draft and making sure we have a robust, well evidenced document to consider.

“There is unquestionably a negative but relatively limited impact on Sidmouth’s economy, and this information must be balanced with the potential benefits of moving. With Knowle in its current state doing nothing is not an option, because it places a huge burden on all East Devon taxpayers, even for just the essential repairs.”

Russell Porter from Peter Brett Associates added: “We have been pleased to prepare this document for the council and hope that it helps them reach an informed decision.

“While no report of this nature can predict the future with 100% accuracy, it should give a good estimate about the local impacts of the proposal. It will be a matter for the council to decide how this balances with other impacts and benefits of moving, including how the proposal affects taxpayers and other parts of the district.”

Other documents to be placed online this week include two extra ecological reports about bats including a Remote Detector Survey carried out over summer, autumn and winter 2012 at the equest of Natural England. There is also an extract from an independent Report and Valuation which considered other employment uses for the building. These documents may also inform people’s comments and opinions on the Outline Planning Application, and are similarly part of the consultation.

The consultation closes at the end of Friday 01 February, and the OPA will be determined at a meeting of the council’s Development Management Committee on Friday 01 March, starting at 2pm in the Council Chamber at Knowle.

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