EDDC’s relocation costs to remain confidential

EDDC's Knowle HQ. Ref shs 7701-15-12SH Picture: Simon Horn

EDDC's Knowle HQ. Ref shs 7701-15-12SH Picture: Simon Horn - Credit: Archant

The full financial case for the district council’s controversial move away from Sidmouth is unlikely to be revealed until after the relocation is completed, a senior official has said.

East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) deputy chief executive, Richard Cohen, was quizzed on the latest costs of the proposed move to SkyPark by members of the authority’s overview and scrutiny committee last Thursday.

But he said that because the project involves sensitive commercial information - including bids for land at SkyPark and the sale of EDDC-owned assets including Knowle and Manstone Depot - the council was not yet able to make all of the financial details public.

In response to a question asking when the full costs would be released, Mr Cohen said it would be ‘whichever is the later’ between the information no longer being confidential and the completion of the project.

He added that with ‘numerous tasks’ still to complete, it was impossible to give an exact timescale on when that would be.

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Mr Cohen told the committee that there had been a ‘healthy market interest’ in Knowle and the Manstone Depot after the sites were formally advertised for sale.

But he added that until prices were agreed for the council-owned assets, there was ‘always a possibility’ that the move to SkyPark may not take place.

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“When we can release information that is confidential, then we will,” he concluded.

Councillor Graham Troman, EDDC representative for the Sidmouth Sidford ward, raised concerns about the departure of the town’s biggest employer.

“Any councillor would be concerned about 400 jobs in their town,” he said. “So obviously I can’t support it. Wherever you move to I can’t support it.

“But as far as I’m concerned I think we need a lot more financial detail to make these decisions - and I think the public need to see the details, because, after all, this is public money.”

Cllr Claire Wright, ward member for Ottery rural, described the details surrounding the relocation as ‘woolly and tenuous’.

She said: “What seems to be happening here is we make a decision on whether or not to sell Knowle on to a developer at the same time as not knowing where the council might move.

“It seems cart before the horse is the most polite way I can put it, and if I’m being frank, it’s a bit mad really.”

A proposal by Cllr Wright to delay any decision - until the full costs were published and there was ‘complete certainty’ on the location of the council’s new home - was narrowly defeated.

The committee instead agreed to decide on the next steps after Mr Cohen presents an updated progress report in December.

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