Claims EDDC is relocating from Sidmouth ‘at any cost’
- Credit: Archant
District chiefs have been accused of progressing their relocation project ‘at any cost’ after they approved adding nearly £700,000 to the bill.
East Devon District Council (EDDC) is leaving Sidmouth for new premises in Honiton and a renovated Exmouth Town Hall.
The latter is now vacant, but it will need work including a new boiler, rewiring and the removal of asbestos – renovations now estimated at £1,669,000, up from £1million in March 2015.
EDDC cabinet members last week agreed to accelerate the refurbishment so some key staff can relocate as early as November 2017.
Councillor Cathy Gardner told the Herald: “This truly is relocation at any price, because council tax payers will pick up the bill.”
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The cabinet meeting heard that a new planning application to redevelop EDDC’s current HQ Knowle could be six months away or more after it refused PegasusLife’s bid for a 113-home retirement community earlier this month. The developer is yet to reveal if it will appeal the decision but the £7.5million it offered was intended to help fund the authority’s £9.2million relocation project.
Cllr Gardner said the project was initially sold to councillors as ‘cost neutral’ but is now costing taxpayers ‘over £2million and counting’ and cash will have to be borrowed.
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She added: “Proceeding with the refurbishment of Exmouth Town Hall weakens the bargaining position of the council with any purchaser of the Knowle – they know that the council is desperate to secure a sale.
“The cabinet approved this extra cost for Exmouth Town Hall without seeing an up-to-date report on the budget for the project overall. They have approved an increase in ignorance of the total costs.”
An EDDC spokeswoman said: “The council remains committed to relocating the rest of its staff into fit-for-purpose offices as soon as possible, despite the recent planning application for Knowle being rejected. The current budget and income projections for the overall project - taking into account both Exmouth and Heathpark - remain balanced. The council has a continued and reasonable expectation that relocation from Knowle will show significant savings compared to remaining in Sidmouth.
“The financial case will be tested again, as it was in March 2015 when the council decided to relocate.”
The decision was ratified at a full council meeting on Wednesday.