Bid to delay relocation by six months is defeated

EDDC's Knowle HQ. Ref shs 7712-15-12SH Picture: Simon Horn

EDDC's Knowle HQ. Ref shs 7712-15-12SH Picture: Simon Horn - Credit: Archant

District council leaders have vowed to press on with their plans to relocate from Sidmouth after a bid to delay the project was defeated.

Newly-elected Independent councillors, many of them representing the Sid Valley, had called to postpone the sale of Knowle for six months to allow for further consultation on the move.

But their attempt was voted down by a clear majority at a specially-called meeting last Wednesday (June 3), with both Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors reaffirming that the project should go ahead.

Stating her case for a six-month delay, Sidmouth Town ward councillor Cathy Gardner urged East Devon District Council (EDDC) members to question the reasons for the move.

She said: “You are accepting what you have been told without looking at the evidence.

“It’s time to open this project up to daylight, so we can all understand how and why decisions have been made.”

Ottery Rural ward councillor Matt Coppell added: “This isn’t necessarily about stopping relocation in its tracks.

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“It may well be that a move from the Knowle is the right thing, it may be that it isn’t.

“This is about giving everybody here, the public and the council the opportunity to decide on the true values of making this move.”

Tory-led EDDC in March gave the green light to sell Knowle to a developer and use the proceeds to fund a relocation to purpose-built facilities in Honiton and refurbished offices at Exmouth Town Hall. Councillor Mark Williamson told Wednesday’s meeting that the authority would save money in the short and long term by moving.

He said to delay the project would be a ‘waste of public money’, adding: “This is an ill-thought-through motion, supported by threadbare evidence.”

Councillor Eileen Wragg questioned the need to further examine the financial case for relocation when independent auditors had already checked and signed-off on the numbers.

She added: “[Knowle] is unsustainable, it’s a drain on public money and the sooner we get on with this move, the better for everyone.”

Cllr Douglas Hull said EDDC’s leadership had taken the ‘wrong attitude’ by not keeping the public fully informed about the relocation project from the start.

But he agreed that ‘ramshackle’ Knowle was no longer suitable.

“We have got to get out of this building,” he added. “We should have done this a while ago.”

The Independents’ motion was put to a vote, and defeated by 38 to 16.

Speaking after the meeting, EDDC leader Councillor Paul Diviani said: “[May’s election results] give me and my party a mandate to follow through with what we have started.

“With Wednesday’s vote out of the way, we intend to press on towards our goal with renewed vigour and I anticipate an announcement about an important stage in this process before too long.”