More private relocation documents are made public

EDDC's Knowle HQ. Ref shs 7705-15-12SH Picture: Simon Horn

EDDC's Knowle HQ. Ref shs 7705-15-12SH Picture: Simon Horn - Credit: Archant

Further sets of confidential documents detailing East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) controversial relocation plans have been made public.

The paperwork, which dates from January 2013 to December 2014, shows the information available to council bosses and records their thinking behind the move.

This comes after a judge ordered the authority to release a series of documents dated up to March 2013, after a Freedom of Information request by a Sidmouth resident ended up in court.

EDDC has also voluntarily released additional reports by consultants and minutes of behind-closed-doors meetings dating up to the end of 2014.

They reveal that the previously unknown supermarket chain that was lined up to buy the council’s land at Honiton’s Heathpark was Asda, although there was interest from Sainsbury’s and Waitrose - as well as a separate bid from Morrisons. However, minutes from meetings in 2014 show that Asda slashed its bid from an initial offer of circa £5million to £3.1million by the end of the year.

As a result of this, the council announced in November 2014 that the sale of the site was no longer viable.

Minutes from a meeting of the project’s executive group in August 2013 show that there had been a poor response to the council’s request for possible sites for new offices.

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The meeting heard that the only interest had been from landowners in the west of the district, which included SkyPark, the new Science Park, Winslade Park in Clyst St Mary and a plot next to the Flybe’s HQ at Exeter Airport.

In December 2013, project bosses discussed the ‘big PR issue’ behind relocation, and acknowledged they faced a challenge in how to ‘sell’ the idea to the public.

They agreed they needed to focus on the rationale behind the move – that it would cost at least £1.6million to carry out essential repairs needed to stay at Knowle - and ‘show that the decision to move is a reasonable one’.

The same meeting also heard that a bid to register footpaths through Knowle’s parkland as public rights of way could have a detrimental impact on the value of the site, but only if campaigners were successful in registering more than one route.

In December 2014, after the council had put its Knowle offices up for sale, seven developers expressed an interest - with bids ranging from £2.83million to £6.55million.

However, minutes show that increased bids were later received from retirement housing firms McCarthy and Stone and Pegasus Life.

The council later selected Pegasus Life as its ‘preferred bidder’ and announced the company had offered ‘between £7million and £8million’ for the site.

Council members have since voted to progress with relocation.

The project will see the authority move to custom-built offices at Heathpark and refurbished facilities at Exmouth Town Hall.

An EDDC spokeswoman said this week: “In line with previous statements concerning relocation project documentation, the council has consistently said that it will publish previously withheld documents, hence the archives appearing on our website.

“The Freedom of Information tribunal was an exercise focused on a few specific project reports going back before March 2013. These have now been published along with a significantly greater number of documents from before and after that period.”

The documents can be viewed on the council’s website.