So long, Sidmouth! Seal of approval for EDDC move

Cllr Paul Diviani and Richard Cohen at the Knowle. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref shs 8232-30-13AW

Cllr Paul Diviani and Richard Cohen at the Knowle. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref shs 8232-30-13AW - Credit: Archant

Controversial plans that will see the East Devon District Council (EDDC) sell its Knowle HQ to a developer and relocate from Sidmouth have been given the final go-ahead.

The project now rests on retirement housing firm Pegasus Life securing planning permission to demolish the site’s existing buildings and to redevelop the land into around 100 homes.

Full council voted ‘yes’ to proposals which will see the proceeds of the Knowle sale used to fund a move to Exmouth Town Hall and purpose-built facilities at Honiton’s Heathpark.

But a meeting on Wednesday, March 18, heard from residents who vowed to lodge legal challenges against the sale of any Knowle’s parkland.

Members of the public and some councillors opposed to the move - branding it a ‘reckless waste of public money’.

Richard Thurlow, chairman of Save our Sidmouth, said campaigners were considering a legal challenge against EDDC’s ‘appropriation’ of 14 per cent of the parkland - which will be sold for development - branding it a ‘land grab’.

Michael Temple said that Knowle Residents’ Association was in the process of a separate move to register the grounds as an ‘asset of community value’, which could delay its sale.

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A last-ditch attempt by councillors Graham Troman and Stuart Hughes to delay the move until after the authority had considered a Knowle/Exmouth set-up was defeated.

Tory councillor Peter Halse, who broke ranks in January to warn that the council was in danger of ‘falling flat on its face’ over the relocation, spoke in favour of the move. He said: “My view now is that this should be supported, and it should go ahead. The majority of people in East Devon are not in this room, and they will be listening to the decision you make tonight.”

Sidford representative Cllr Christine Drew said: “As a Sidmouth member, it would be so easy to vote against this, to keep my face for Sidmouth. But I have looked at the facts and figures and, really, we can’t afford not to move.”

Cllr Geoff Pook said: “The need has been proven, the finances stack up, and the legal and technical due diligence has been carried out. I say take the decision, and let’s get on with it.”

Several Sidmouth councillors, who had previously voted in favour of the move, voted against it at the last minute.

However, the project was passed by 37 votes to 13.