Knowle - a question of the true costs

SIR - On Tuesday evening, July 17, I attended a presentation about the proposed relocation of the Knowle council offices at the Stowford Centre. I asked Steve Pratton, the consultant employed by EDDC what the cost of relocation of the offices from Sidmouth to Honiton would be. He stated �6,000,000 or �7,000,000.

I asked what the restoration costs for Knowle would be if the offices remained in Sidmouth. He said that information was confidential. I asked why this was and he said I should take this up with EDDC as it was their decision not to disclose this figure.

Unsatisfied with this answer I was referred to Richard Cohen, Deputy Chief Executive of EDDC. I asked him why the restoration costs were confidential if the people of Sidmouth are being consulted and asked to make a decision about the financial viability of relocation.

When pressed about the exact cost of restoring the Knowle, and why pertinent information was being withheld, he changed tack and said that the information was not confidential or being withheld and it would cost ‘that and much more’ than relocation.

I asked exactly how much ‘that much and more’ is, and he replied �8,000,000 or �9,000,000. I asked how he had arrived at that figure. He was vague.

I asked again and he said he had it on authority from experts who had looked at both the older and newer parts of the building. He said EDDC was not prepared to put time and money into the release of an exact breakdown of these figures.

He said if this figure was made public, developers would up their bids as they would know the true value of the land. (It is surely no secret that developers will pay any amount for land to build on, as long as they strike a mutually rewarding deal with the seller)

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I asked again how EDDC had arrived at the figure of �8-9,000,000 for restoration and how this broke down exactly. He stated that EDDC had made the decision to focus the consultant’s time on the relocation costs and not on finding out and releasing the exact costs of restoration.

I asked again why this information was not forthcoming and he said that he had been forthcoming and ‘had answered all my questions’. But he had not. Richard Cohen exudes the view that EDDC knows best about planning matters and the finer details are too complex for the residents of Sidmouth to know or understand.

The following questions remain unanswered:

l The exact breakdown for the alleged �8-9,000,000 restoration costs of the Knowle offices?

l Whether EDDC has sought three quotes for this work in order to achieve the best quote and a realistic figure?

l Why EDDC do not want Sidmouth residents to have this information?

l Why they chose to focus their time and our money on the argument for relocation rather than giving a balanced view?

Answers are needed in order to make a realistic comparison of costs of staying versus relocation.

It would also be interesting to know the cost of the ‘consultant’ Steve Pratton, who attended the meeting on EDDC’s behalf in order to give us the information that EDDC want us to know. A figure of �300,000 was suggested on the night. To be paid for out of the sale of the Knowle.

Val Ranger

Coombe Down, Harpford