Budget for EDDC’s relocation tops £10.3million

EDDC's Knowle HQ. Ref shs 7705-15-12SH Picture: Simon Horn

EDDC's Knowle HQ. Ref shs 7705-15-12SH Picture: Simon Horn - Credit: Archant

District chiefs are being advised to press ahead with their £10million relocation from Sidmouth – despite having no guaranteed buyer for their ‘not fit-for-purpose’ Knowle HQ.

East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) cabinet is being asked to sign off nearly £8.7million to press ahead with building work at Honiton’s Heathpark, on top of the approved £1,7million pot to refurbish Exmouth Town Hall.

If approved, the relocation project’s total budget will stand at £10.36million, up from £9.2million in March 2015.

Members will also be asked if they support a further £225,000 cost for an improved access road to the Honiton base when they meet next week.

EDDC originally promised that the relocation would be ‘cost neutral’, that it would not borrow money and the project would not progress before Knowle was sold.

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But after refusing PegasusLife’s £7.5million bid to redevelop Knowle into a 113-home retirement community, the authority now has to decide how to proceed with the relocation.

According to cabinet agenda papers, members have three options to choose from:

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• ‘Go now’ – press ahead with building in Honiton in anticipation of an acceptable combination of cash for Knowle and prudential borrowing. Work could be completed as soon as December 2018.

• Delay relocation for one to two years, or more, so planning permission for Knowle can be secured to fund the project. EDDC understands PegasusLife is preparing an appeal, which would have to be lodged before June 9.

• A ‘do minimum’ option of giving up on the new-build Honiton HQ, completing the refurbishment of Exmouth Town Hall and modernising a section of Knowle. Essential repairs to Knowle would cost £1.9million, but there is no capital receipt for this expenditure.

Councillors have been recommended to pursue the ‘go now’ option. EDDC maintains that the move will save money in the long-run.

Its development management committee refused PegasusLife’s application because it represented a departure from Knowle’s 50-home allocation in the authority’s Local Plan and due to the lack of ‘affordable’ housing.

EDDC has considered various re-marketing options for Knowle – if a PegasusLife appeal is unsuccessful – that could fetch between £3.22million and £6.8million. One scheme proposes 50 homes, half of which would be ‘affordable’, and could bring in £4.2million.

Critics have long said EDDC could remain at Knowle rather than relocate. The cabinet papers say modernising the former hotel would cost nearly £11.3million, or, for the newer offices, the bill is expected to be more than £5.9million.

The relocation project has cost £1,784,884 to date.

Cabinet members will meet to discuss the options at Knowle at 5.30pm on Wednesday (April 5).

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