Council chiefs face criticism over sale of Knowle public assets

East Devon District Council's former HQ at the Knowle. Picture: Daniel Clark

East Devon District Council's former HQ at the Knowle. Picture: Daniel Clark - Credit: Archant

Council chiefs have been rebuked following the sale of public assets at the former Knowle HQ in Sidmouth.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) has been put under the spotlight, facing scrutiny, after a number of items were sold as part of its move, to Exmouth town hall and the new Honiton Heathpark HQ.

EDDC’s scrutiny committee considered the disposal of the contents of the Knowle, that were unsuitable for its new building, at a meeting last Thursday, February 7.

It was agreed that EDDC’s senior management team should be reminded to always consider the public perception of actions taken, particularly when it involves public assets.

Richard Cohen, EDDC’s deputy chief executive, produced a report that outlined the process of disposing of the items prior to handover to PegasusLife for demolition. He said: “As part of that process and prior to the handover of the old office buildings to the developer, the council needs to clear the buildings. In total there are just over 2,600 separate items in the Knowle. The vast majority of these are office furniture: desks, chairs and cabinet. There are also a number of particular items of varying antiquity and value: these involve both furnishings and fixture and fittings. From a perspective of bulk disposal the estimated total weight of all these items is 45 metric tonnes.”

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He said Sidmouth Museum and Sidmouth Town Council were both interested in re-home various items, multiple local auction houses were invited in to look over items but that the majority of items were not of interest to them, and that for remaining items an opportunity was offered for council staff and members to bid for items whether for practical or aesthetic reasons.

He said: “These were items that had been attributed little or no sale value by the various professional auctioneers and ranged from standard office furniture items to cupboards, upholstered furnishings, tables, curtains for example. This element of the disposal process involves around 70 separate items and is likely to raise of the order of £2,000 for the Chairman’s chosen charities.”

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Mr Cohen said groups such as Action East Devon, Green Furniture Aid and Hospicare who are all either networked with voluntary groups or can sell furniture via charity outlets were asked whether they had an interest in some of the for the more generic items such desks, chairs and tables, but the response has been largely muted.

Town and parish councils will asked them whether they have an interest in any items with the requirement that they transport said items away themselves, he added.

But councillors said that contrary to what Mr Cohen said, a full list of the items for disposal had not been circulated to them.

Scrutiny committee chairman Cllr Roger Giles said: “There has not been a list that we have seen so could someone produce a list that will be circulated very soon.”

Cllr Cathy Gardner said: “Why was the full explanation of the process not circulated to members before we were given the chance to bid for items? The reason there was a furore around the subject as the offer of sale of items internally was offered in isolation and the lack of communication meant there was a lack of understanding of the wider process.”

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