Fact vs opinion


- Credit: Archant

Despite being very clear about options for East Devon District Council’s office relocation, last week Mr Thurlow, chair of Save Our Sidmouth, conveniently let opinion and emotion get in the way of the facts and figures which have informed our decision to relocate (“The inconvenient truth about Knowle move”, Opinon, September 20).

Back in July 2011 EDDC decided to pursue an office relocation programme. It has been a constant throughout this process that remaining as we are is not an option.

The Knowle buildings are not fit for purpose.

A viability exercise, carried out by Davis Langdon, showed that remaining at Knowle would incur a £1.566million bill of essential maintenance – not to mention any refurbishment or redesign that would allow a more modern operation.

The decisions we are taking in relation to the office relocation are based entirely on fact. Let’s address some of the opinions of Mr Thurlow.

l In the worst case scenerio, the relocation would reduce the number of jobs filled by Sidmouth’s working residents by 91 jobs. What Mr Thurlow fails to say is that this is over a 10-year period.

However, due to the anticipated development at the Knowle site, 20 new local jobs could be created. So, in economic terms, in the worst case there is estimated to be an overall reduction of 71 jobs to Sidmouth over 10 years.

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l The supply of all goods and services are contracted through a competitive tender process – fully compliant with the council’s and, where applicable, EU procurement rules – using best value and not location criteria. These purchases – which Mr Thurlow states represent a possible loss of £3.5million per annum in contracts awarded to firms in Sidmouth – would therefore be unaffected by the council’s relocation.

l There were some minor issues in the economic impact assessment that caused the Knowle planning application to be resubmitted. It should be remembered that the issue was with only one of some of 26 documents that required revision.

l Mr Thurlow estimates the total cost of the planning application to be £500,000 – elements of which will not be reused.

On what basis?

To date £313,227 has been spent, of which £113,000 is attributable to the planning application. Most of the work associated with the Knowle planning application will be of use when Knowle is marketed.

l Contrary to Mr Thurlow’s opinion, there is no intention at this time to appoint a single developer to both build the new offices and develop Knowle and Manstone depots.

l The £4.8million potential borrowing is an amount that would need to be spent on annual running costs of Knowle over the next 20 years. The move is necessary. The area of the so-called ‘modern’ office is insufficient for our needs.

Mr Thurlow suggests we could sell off part of the site for housing. We are advised that the value of the Knowle site for development would be considerably lower if the council remained on site than if the site was fully vacated.

l Contrary to Mr Thurlow’s opinion, there have been no mistakes in calculating the size of our current offices.

l The original cost plan for the full Knowle refurbishment as at July 2012 was £12.96million. Following adjustments for additional design and construction risk, together with inflation to bring the cost in line with a potential start date in the first quarter of 2015, the overall cost increased to £15.1million.

l Mr Thurlow suggests we have never costed in detail the work needed to bring our ‘newer’ offices up to modern standards. Our consultant has pursued a range of other possibilities.

l Essential maintenance has always been carried out at Knowle to ensure a safe working environment for staff and visitors. However, there seems little point in spending money – the £1.5m Mr Thurlow refers to – on elements such as new windows when it has been known for some time that the council has been considering relocating.

l Indeed, savings have been calculated on operating costs by comparing those of a new office against the operating costs of the whole building of Knowle. At this stage, this is all we can do.

l Carbon savings have been assessed on the new building’s operation. Mr Thurlow says the council has ignored a Government paper which states that it will take 50 years for a new building to recover the costs in carbon release on a new build. Other papers by recognised authorities advise on other time scales.

Our consultants have advised that it will take one year for the carbon attributable to emissions caused by demolition to be recovered, whilst the carbon resulting from construction would be recovered in 10 years.

l Staff have been consulted on plans for the office move. They will remain central in the planning and implementation of the move.

l Mr Thurlow states that one of the major risks we have not addressed is the unforseen construction costs.

Davis Langdon has included their tender price indices up to the first quarter of 2015. In addition, a 20 per cent allowance has been included within all final cost plans for design and construction risk.

From the outset we have been clear that any move to new offices would not place an extra burden on taxpayers.

We have been clear that any new buildings will be flexible, fit for purpose and be located where customers have easy access.

We will also develop ways of working to make services easier to access.

In addition, any new office space will maximise the use of space and technology for the benefit of East Devon residents and the productive working of staff and councillors.

Councillor Phil Twiss

Portfolio Holder, Corporate Services