£1million is just essential repairs

Last week this newspaper published a letter from local objectors to EDDC’s planning application for Knowle (‘Open letter to East Devon District Council’, Sidmouth Herald, March 15, page 24).

We are considering the decision of the development management committee and what our future approach will be to create a cost-effective and modern working environment.

Aside from the planning decision we still have a fundamental problem, one which nearly everyone has recognised.

Knowle in its current form is expensive and poses a big risk to East Devon taxpayers’ money and essential services.

The £1million we’ve quoted isn’t to bring Knowle up ‘to a reasonable standard’; it’s just the essential and urgent repairs needed in the short to medium term.

It does not address the ongoing costs, the future repair bills or the issue that the building simply isn’t suited to running a modern business.

With that said we’re equally keen to find a good solution which is fair to Sidmouth and the rest of East Devon.

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We are happy to answer the questions we have been asked, and would also like to clarify some of the points raised in last week’s letter.

l Our records show we have spent around £244,000 on the project to date, not the £0.5million quoted. This actual total covers other aspects of the proposed move apart from the Knowle redevelopment scheme. We are not sure where the £0.5million figure has come from or with what rigour it was calculated.

l We were swift to respond to the regrettable data inaccuracies in the Economic Impact Assessment for the Knowle application. Considering that this was one among 29 different supporting documents to the application, it is important that people understand the detail and depth we went to to inform and fully comply with the process. It is therefore a frustration to us that errors let us down in one of the reports.

l The Economic Impact Assessment estimated that, over a 10-year period, a worst-case scenario could be up to 70 net job losses to Sidmouth. This was based on people finding new jobs, retiring or otherwise leaving, and the likelihood that their replacements would also come from Sidmouth.

Everyone can of course decide for themselves if this can be described as ‘a major disaster for the economy’, although over three quarters of businesses polled saw no reason to change their business operations or plans.

It certainly does have an impact and we don’t want to underplay that, but by the same token if we continue in our current costly accommodation then our budgets will be affected, with an inevitable knock-on effect on job numbers and service provision.

We have responded to the specific questions asked by the authors of the letter, both personally to them and in full on our website at www.eastdevon.gov.uk/movingandimprovingnews.

As it’s a lengthy response we have decided not to pay to advertise it in full in the newspaper, but we do have paper copies available on request to anyone who’d like to see it and doesn’t have internet access.

We have to take many factors on board when making strategic decisions and this is not a black and white issue. We absolutely need to move with the times and one way or another; things will not stay the same.

We now know from the Government’s response to the Heseltine report, ‘No Stone Unturned’ (October 2012), that local government reform is not welcome, so district councils will continue to play their role.

It is therefore essential that this council plans for the future.

Tim Borrett

Communications and Public Affairs Manager

East Devon District Council