Knowle HQ move can’t be justified


- Credit: Archant

I thank East Devon District Council cabinet member Councillor Phil Twiss for his reply (“We serve district”, Opinion, July 26) to my letter of the previous week.

I had argued that EDDC, which needs less than half of its present office space, should not redevelop Knowle and move away.

They should use the purpose-built 1970s offices and the council chamber, selling the rest of Knowle to fund modernisation.

But EDDC says that the newer offices do not provide enough space. Instead, EDDC assesses a costly refurbishment of the whole Knowle – over twice the space required. Not surprisingly, they conclude it would be cheaper to downsize elsewhere.

I cannot access Knowle to measure floorspace and test my conclusions. Cllr Twiss kindly told me that the newer offices have 1,934 square metres of floorspace. With the council chamber building that would make, I estimate, 3,000 square metres in total – 352 square metres short of the 3,352 square metres EDDC would like.

However, the 1,934 square metres should, according to Health and Safety Executive standards, accommodate 429 staff – probably all of EDDC’s current Knowle staff. It would house very many more than the 250 desks that EDDC say they will require in future.

How can EDDC justify spending £7-8million of taxpayers’ money – on top of that already spent on land and consultancy – for a newly built headquarters, only to make good a small shortfall on what seems like a very generous space allocation.

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The EDDC diagram, ‘Office Accommodation – the Facts’, published in the Herald two weeks ago, was very selective with ‘facts’.

EDDC compared energy use and carbon output for ALL of Knowle with figures for new offices under half that size. No wonder the statistics for the new building looked so good!

I draw the following conclusions using EDDC’s own figures:

l EDDC has 7,722 square metres of floorspace and needs 3,352 square metres – just 43 per cent;

l Current energy costs are £84,000 a year against a target for new offices of £29,000 – a downsized (43 per cent) Knowle should reduce energy costs to £36,000;

l Carbon outputs are currently 401 tonnes a year against a target of 136 tonnes – a downsized Knowle should emit 174 tonnes;

l EDDC’s £431,000 annual running cost for Knowle compares with a target £269,000 – proportionately, the cut-down Knowle would cost £187,000.

So, slimmed-down use of the existing Knowle would immediately bring costs close to those of new build, even before modern energy conservation measures are applied.

l By occupying the parts of Knowle which are most cost-effective (their consultants could advise) EDDC could sell over 4,000 square metres of unused space for conversion to flats;

l The sale could yield £3-4million to invest in conservation and renewable energy;

l A modest 25 per cent energy saving in the downsized, modernised, Knowle would provide offices as good as new.

Rationalisation and refurbishment would save running costs, without damage to Knowle and its grounds, and without the huge financial risks of a new building.

And it would save capital funds to spend on services. Isn’t that what local government efficiencies are all about?

Robin Fuller