Cost neutral?

SIR - This is a copy of an open letter sent to East Devon District Council objecting to the revised plan for the Knowle.

I am writing to you and to the council to express my disapproval of and deep disappointment with the revised plan for the Knowle.

It is clear that the new proposals are not intended in any way as a response to our objections. Perhaps, indeed, you are telling us that you have no intention of listening to the concerns of the people you represent, and that, like Hugo Swire (our MP), those of you who are elected are for the most part sitting in a safe seat and are, it seems, convinced that the increasing dissatisfaction of the voters can be safely ignored.

Nearly 4,000 people marched last Saturday week, attempting to get their voices heard and their questions answered. Personally, I feel I have talked enough about the arboretum and the loss of so many beautiful trees - oh, the pity of it. Ditto the loss of public recreational land, and, indeed, the loss of public parking; so many losses which in the end, under the present day stewardship, will alter the character and appeal of Sidmouth as a charming, small, green and pleasant Georgian seaside town.

Without a doubt, the kind of changes engendered by these losses (and the many other losses which are not covered in this letter) will have to be confronted, but not here, because my focus today is cost.

Mr Diviani claims that the move to Honiton will be cost-neutral; namely, it will be paid for entirely by selling off a Sidmouth asset, namely our public park. Obviously his idea of cost-neutral is different to mine. What I / we, all of us / everyone want to know it what is the real cost of this cheaper-than-renovating-the-Knowle figure ie finding a site; buying a site; designing new offices; building new offices; and relocating the Sidmouth offices, lock stock and barrel to Honiton.

Estimates for the above work, claims Mr Diviani, come in at less than the figure for a renovation of the Knowle plus a new heating system - this would appear to be a ludicrous conclusion, so why not share with us the tenders you have received and they can be analysed by an independent authority. Meantime, the few job details that have been released have caused much excitement among local plumbers and builders. They all want to get the job at the Knowle, the rumour is that it pays very well…

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Another group of people who are quietly excited by the proposed move are those who would qualify for a travel allowance (for instance all Sidmouth-based employees) or could take voluntary redundancy. I am not very informed about workers’ rights but I was told that such rights as travel allowances could extend for a period of five years or more. Mr Diviani, do you have any idea of how many employees are hoping to take redundancy or voluntary redundancy, and how many would qualify for a travel allowance? These figures could alter your sums substantially.

Knocking down a few interior walls, putting up some solar panels and installing a new boiler and heating system will no doubt cost a few bob but nothing to compare to the cost of relocation. And we would still have our lovely park (which has been bracketed with Killerton and Connaught Gardens in terms of recreational areas), and regular income, from the parking and from renting out the excess office space which it appears that EDDC does not utilise or need. Would this not be a more cost effective, environmentally friendly and generally popular plan.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Helen Crackston

Knowle Drive, Sidmouth