£9million cost of large sitting room


- Credit: ©ARCHANT } NORFOLK 2002.

The details published by EDDC on the advantages of moving over staying in Sidmouth are highly selective in the facts they present, ignoring inconvenient truths in order to help the council leadership win its arguments.

They claim benefits in carbon release, but they ignore the fact that it takes 50 years of energy saving to repay the huge amounts of energy put into the processes of construction: demolition, the manufacture of building materials, and the on-site work of construction.

EDDC have only been at Knowle about 40 years. If they occupy new offices for the same length of time, they will never repay the carbon costs of construction – there would have been more carbon released to the atmosphere than if they had adopted sound conservation policies in the existing buildings.

Who would give EDDC 50 more years of existence in the present political climate? The carbon argument cannot stand up to any logical scrutiny.

EDDC claim to require 3,353 square metres of floor space for their new offices and council chamber. My estimates suggest the potential floor space which could be provided by the 1970s offices at Knowle plus the council chamber in the older part of Knowle would amount to 3,290 square metres.

This 63 square metres shortfall – the size of a large sitting room – would amount to just two per cent less than they say is required.

EDDC want space for 250 desks. This would require 1,125 square metres of floor space under Health and Safety Executive recommendations.

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But 2,630 square metres of office space is already available within the 1970s office buildings – more than double what is required.

On the basis of a floor space shortfall of two per cent overall, and ignoring the apparently very generous provision of office space for staff, EDDC suggest that the only solution at Knowle would be to refurbish the Victorian buildings rather than the newer 1970s offices.

That is so blatantly a misuse of the statistics to suit their arguments that it is almost laughable in its bare-faced nerve.

Instead, the argument should revert to a proper, unbiased assessment of what could realistically be done with the newer Knowle buildings, using the sale for redevelopment of the older Knowle to fund the process.

If EDDC – on the basis of the flimsy arguments of carbon and space and untested evaluation of genuine improvements to perfectly reusable offices – were to go ahead with the plan to move, it would not be the elected members who eventually suffer when the sums fail to add up.

This is a proposed public-sector building programme costing maybe £7-9million. We all know that costs rise significantly between inception and completion in almost all public sector buildings.

It will not be those who are pushing for the move – the leaders of the elected members who run the council – who take the blame for an embarrassing overshoot on spending in a new development.

They will merely say that their job was to outline policy ambitions and it was the officers’ jobs to advise and, where appropriate, implement in a cost-effective manner.

At a time when public servants at the centre of administrative scandals are losing their jobs and their index-linked pensions over maladministration, while the politicians cover their backs, it is a brave – some may say ‘foolhardy’ – council official who would administratively underwrite this biased and ill-considered venture with such large amounts of public money.

Robin Fuller

(via email)