Sidmouth to lose biggest employer to Honiton?

District council considers Knowle move

SIDMOUTH could be set to be stripped of its status as the home of East Devon District Council (EDDC) - sparking fears for trade if more than 400 workers up sticks.

The Herald understands the town’s biggest employer is seriously considering leaving its prestigious Knowle home for a Honiton industrial estate.

New deputy chief executive Richard Cohen has been tasked with investigating the viability of the cash-saving move, which would see other services go to Exmouth.

EDDC said yesterday: “We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do.”

A spokesman revealed ‘informal’ approaches had been made over the possible sale of Knowle in the past, but added: “This is the council’s decision and not in response to any specific developer interest.”

The authority won’t reveal how much bosses think Knowle is worth, but said its valuation will be ‘part of the process going forward’.

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Exmouth Town Hall could house departments and staff for the western side of the district, with the rest at the Honiton Heathpark Industrial Estate - already the location for meetings of the East Devon Business Forum.

Council cabinet members last week poured over a confidential office relocation comparative study document, penned by Kensington Taylor Architects, during behind-closed-doors talks.

Mooted reasons for the move to Honiton include the site’s central location in the district, good transport links and the fact the location’s business centre is already owned by the EDDC.

The council has long looked at moving from Knowle in a bid to cut costs.

The former hotel’s size and age have been blamed for expensive heating and lighting costs, while its labyrinth of corridors and stairs make access problematic for some staff and visitors.

Former EDDC leader Sara Randall Johnson last year labelled Knowle as “an antiquated building that costs a fortune”.

Minutes of last week’s cabinet meeting state: “The chief executive assured members that the project would be kept under continual review to ensure that costs were contained and best value achieved. The importance of the provision being cost effective, fit for purpose and flexible was recognised as the main driver.”

? Fears for town businesses. Turn to page 3.