Is relocation value for money?

Concerns regarding value for money over East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) relocation to Honiton and Exmouth were voiced to the authority’s cabinet this week.

Members were given an update on the project on Wednesday - when worries were raised over the ‘inadequate’ room they would be allocated at Exmouth Town Hall, hot-desking and a missed opportunity to have an on-site café.

EDDC’s ambition to relocate to more modern, energy-efficient offices at Honiton’s Heathpark by February 2018, have proven highly controversial - especially in Sidmouth. Staff will be shared across Honiton and Exmouth.

It is proposed that the council’s exiting Knowle HQ will be redeveoped into retirement homes. Only when developer PegasusLife’s application for Knowle is determined will plans for Heathpark be considered.

Speaking at the meeting, Sidmouth resident Jeremy Woodward dubbed the relocation a ‘vanity project’ and raised concerns over whether residents were getting value for their money.

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Councillor Gardner, who represents the Sidmouth Town ward, voiced her concerns about the value for money being obtained for residents and asked if there were any measurements to gauge whether or not they were getting this.

EDDC’s deputy chief executive Richard Cohen said the council had gone through a number of avenues and put a list together of potential developers so it could compare what was the best value and in residents’ best interest.

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Issues were raised over whether the whole council, members of the public and press would be able to fit into the small chamber at Exmouth Town Hall and questions were also asked about what would happen in the event of an emergency, when they needed to use a bigger room without booking.

Another concern was with the council not being able to put up memorabilia – an issue Mr Cohen said the authority was still trying to solve.

Mr Cohen added: “Space allocated for staff is being discussed. We have a number of staff who are not all full-time and some are mobile. There will be shared desks.”

He added that the council also planned to knock down a wall through to the public gallery at Exmouth to make more space.

Councillor Eileen Wragg, who supported the move, said: “I think this building [Knowle] is totally unsuitable. There is no disabled access to upstairs to officers and it really is not fit for purpose. It is like a rabbit warren and I still get lost - it cannot be good for staff morale.

“I think to have a more modernised building is best – we are doing it the best way we can.”

PegasusLife’s proposals for Knowle are likely to be considered in July. The remaining parkland is set to be transferred to Sidmouth Town Council.

Current proposals for Heathpark are for a three-storey building with office space, a large reception area and a council chamber three-quarters the size of the one at Knowle.

Exmouth Town Hall is set to be refurbished within the existing building footprint to offer the ‘breadth’ of EDDC customer services.

There will be space for the existing tenants and the town council to remain. EDDC will also look to provide a surgery in Sidmouth when it leaves the town.

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