‘Disappointed’ EDDC set to ditch SkyPark move

PUBLISHED: 15:00 28 November 2014 | UPDATED: 12:21 12 December 2014

Archant

A mooted move to SkyPark is set to be scrapped by East Devon District Council (EDDC) - the authority now intends to leave Sidmouth for Honiton and Exmouth.

‘Disappointed’ bosses are pessimistic about relocating to the site near Exeter, due to a lack of interest in assets they need to sell to build a state-of-the-art new HQ there.

Knowle’s likely buyer does not want the Manstone Depot, and a major supermarket chain has slashed its offer for Honiton’s Heathpark.

EDDC now looks set to revise its ‘preferred’ site in favour of splitting 250 staff between offices at Heathpark and Exmouth Town Hall.

The matter will be discussed by members of the council’s cabinet on Wednesday evening.

A spokesman said: “A combined Honiton and Exmouth office base offers a more flexible approach... a smaller headquarters and an accessible presence around the district offer a better proposition for our customers.”

A report by officers reveals that none of the developers interested in Knowle wanted to retain the buildings – which it is claimed supports a long-held view the premises are ‘not fit for purpose’. Proposals for the site recognise the need for housing, care provision and retaining the public parkland.

The relocation is dependent on a developer securing planning permission at Knowle to prevent the council being left homeless. Once it is in place, work will begin in Honiton and Exmouth, funded by capital receipts and ‘prudent’ borrowing.

The council marketed Manstone Depot at the same time as Knowle, but after little interest, it now looks likely to keep it on. The site has a draft Local Plan allocation for 20 homes, but this did not convince bidders.

EDDC said powering Knowle costs taxpayers £83,000 a year, while ‘essential repairs alone’ would require £1.5million.

The estimated cost of the relocation project so far has already exceeded £1million.

Heathpark is home to EDDC’s business centre, which could be incorporated into the new HQ.

A major supermarket was interested in the site, but reduced its offer in line with a new business sector model that means selling Heathpark is ‘no longer attractive’.

Exmouth Town Council has a number of empty offices since the county council vacated the premises in September.

SkyPark was announced as the top choice from five possible options in February. EDDC came under fire from residents for choosing a location on the far eastern end of the district that was said would be inaccessible to many.

It has also been criticised for planning the move in a time of austerity, when the very future of district councils is in doubt, and making many of its decisions behind closed doors.

A freedom of information request was made by a resident to have confidential relocation reports released, but EDDC mounted a legal challenge to withhold them. A ruling from the Information Commissioner was initially forecast to published by the end of October, but is now expected ‘within the next month’.

The new relocation proposals will come before EDDC’s cabinet on Wednesday before being considered by full council on December 17.

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