Friday, 12 July 2013

Knowle: plans to be considered over the next two weeks

As reported in this blog 
Futures Forum: Knowle: 'minor amendments' proposed
Futures Forum: Lobbying and transparency, continued... 
there are several key dates coming up on the issue of Knowle: 

Following on from the Express & Echo article, there will be these District Council meetings:

>> Wednesday, July 17: Cabinet is to discuss "controversial proposals to relocate East Devon District Council’s offices." 
And "details about the options for new district council offices will be released in a report ahead of the July cabinet meeting, no later than five working days before the meeting."

>> Thursday, July 18: The Development Management Committee (DMC, or planning committee) is to consider "minor changes proposed for its Local Plan, including changes to the originally proposed development boundary at Knowle." 


>> Wednesday, July 24. The Local Plan will be referred to the full Council by the DMC, where "officers will seek approval for a final submission to the Secretary of State ahead of an independent public examination of the document later this year." 

A final decision on whether or not to relocate will also be made at full Council. Whilst "there are no plans for the council to reapply for planning permission for the site," it is rumoured that the District Council will 'allow' a developer to make a separate application.

>> Friday, July 26: A face-to-face event with local stakeholders to consider the relocation project.

To quote Council leader Councillor Paul Diviani, the District Council should not create "an unacceptable long term risk of misusing public funds to prop up an ageing building." 
Furthermore, it "will look at other costed options for relocating and the benefits and risks those options bring.”
Options for EDDC’s Office Relocation | Save Our Sidmouth

The Sidmouth Herald has confirmed these dates:

Parts of Knowle spared in Local Plan changes

Stefan Gordon Monday, July 8, 2013 
PARTS of Knowle will be spared from development after district council chiefs made changes to a controversial blueprint for the future of Sidmouth and East Devon.
Authority bosses told the Herald as it went to press yesterday that amendments to development boundaries, the draft Local Plan – including for their own HQ - were ‘small but important’. Alterations mean Knowle’s lower parkland and lower car park – both earmarked for building in previously refused plans for the site – will be ommitted from future proposals.
The changes come after a final consultation on the 15-year planning document and will be presented to the council’s Development Management Committee on Thursday, July 18.
The committee’s recommendations will then be put before full Council on Wednesday, July 24, where members will decide whether the final draft of the Local Plan can be submitted to the Government for approval.
This will involve an independent public inquiry - likely to happen in the autumn - that will give the public a further opportunity to comment.
The highest profile change is a move which will ‘better protect’ parts of the Knowle campus from development, says the council. The lower parkland, known as Zone E in a rejected recent planning application, and the lower car park and parkland [Zone A] are now no longer included in the proposed boundary for any future development of the site.
Councillor Paul Diviani, leader of East Devon District Council, said: “The process has not been without controversy and we appreciate that planning issues stir deep and heartfelt emotions in many people. However, we have listened and I think we have responded reasonably to the concerns that have been raised about which parts of Knowle are suited to development.”
The final draft of the plan will shortly be available online via the council’s website for the public to view as part of the agenda papers for the July 18 meeting.

And there is the 'stakeholder' meeting of 26th July:

Knowle’s fate to be debated next week

Stefan Gordon Tuesday, July 9, 2013 
Options for the future of East Devon District Council’s offices will next be debated on Wednesday, July 17, at cabinet.
Subject to the outcome of this meeting it will be followed by a special face-to-face event with local stakeholders on 26 July.
The council is inviting representatives from around East Devon, to join councillors and senior officers for a special event where they’ll hear more about the council’s objectives for the project and can talk about any decisions made by the Cabinet.
Among those invited to the event on 26 July are representatives from Chambers of Commerce, community organisations, neighbouring local authorities and pressure groups including Save Our Sidmouth and the East Devon Alliance.
The council is also inviting representatives from every town and parish council in the district.
At the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday 17 July councillors will be asked to decide whether or not staying at Knowle is a realistic option and which options to look at in more depth.
The council has been looking at the possibilities for its offices for many months as it seeks a solution for the increasing cost and unsuitability of its current headquarters in Sidmouth. Staying at Knowle would require over £1.5M of essential repair and maintenance work along with high and rising running costs, investment in new utility cabling and any future repairs.
In March, the council’s planning committee refused permission to redevelop Knowle with 50 homes and a care home. Since then the council has been considering its options.
The council aims to find an office option which is both financially viable and environmentally friendly as well as allowing it to operate in a more modern, flexible way which suits residents.
A final decision on whether or not to relocate would be made at Full Council, although no definite timescale has yet been set. There are also no plans for the council to reapply for planning permission for the site.
Cllr Paul Diviani, Leader of East Devon District Council said: “The planning decision made earlier in the year gave us pause for thought and we have been considering its implications. We want to make the best decision for both our customers across East Devon and our staff.
“These options have included a range of ideas for staying on the Knowle site. This report will look at whether we can stay at Knowle while providing good quality, accessible services and without creating an unacceptable long term risk of misusing public funds to prop up an ageing building. Secondly it will look at other costed options for relocating and the benefits and risks those options bring.”
Details about the options for new district council offices will be released in a report ahead of the July Cabinet meeting, no later than five working days before the meeting.

The Express & Echo reports the disquiet from the campaigning group Save Our Sidmouth:

Group vows to fight on amid plan changes

Thursday, July 11, 2013

CAMPAIGNERS in Sidmouth have vowed to continue their fight against East Devon District Council's plans for "over-development".
A number of what council officials are describing as "minor amendments" have been made to the authority's emerging Local Plan document. The report sets out where about 15,000 homes could be built across the district between 2006 and 2026 in addition to employment land. A council spokesperson confirmed that most of the changes are "very minor text updates or additions to further improve compliance with national planning policy".
The "highest profile" change is the reduction of land earmarked for development at the council offices at Knowle, Sidmouth. The amendment follows refusal by the council's development management committee for the council's own application for 50 homes and a graduated care home on the site earlier this year. Council executives had hoped to secure planning permission for the site as part of the ambition to relocate to purpose-built offices in Honiton.
But although welcoming the reduction in size of the proposed development site, members of campaign group Save Our Sidmouth have maintained their strong opposition to the sell-off of the council buildings. In addition, campaigners are concerned that amendments have been made to the wording regarding employment land plans for the town. Whereas before the plans referred to an improved employment site with the possibility for other sites outside of the town, reference is now only made with regards to a new site.
"There are subtle amendments to the wording, in the Local Plan but the reality is hugely significant change," said SOS chairman Richard Thurlow. "Although we welcome the decision to remove the two most contentious areas from development at Knowle, the garden parkland and car park, it concerns us that there are still plans to develop the site.
"Losing the council offices from Sidmouth will have a huge detrimental economic impact on the town, with millions of pounds lost each year in terms of local spend.
The latest version of the document follows months of analysis and revision in the light of feedback received during the consultation in November and December last year.

These are comments from the SOS website:

Proposed East Devon Local Plan

Comments regarding proposed amendments 

The Planning Officer’s recommendation is to amend the housing allocation at the Knowle by excluding the areas which became known as Zone A and Zone E when the planning application was submitted. This is a very welcome move in the right direction.

In order to carry this amendment through to the text of the proposed Local Plan, a further small drafting amendment will be necessary. In paragraph H1 (Reference 6.295) and on the site plan the residential allocation at the Knowle is identified as ED02A and ED02B. Zone A was included within ED02A and ED02B comprised the whole of Zone E.

If Zone E is excluded it will only be necessary to identify a single site and 6.295 and the site plan should be amended to read simply ED02.

There is, however, a further point in relation to 6.295. The original residential allocation at the Knowle was for 50 houses on the whole site. There was no mention of the care home which only crept in when the planning application was submitted.

Forgetting about the care home which is something of a red herring, it is now proposed to reduce the site of the proposed housing allocation. Logically, the number of houses should be reduced in proportion. The correct number is probably around 30. I would ask that Reference 6.295 should be amended accordingly, please.

Plus comments from the Sidmouth Independent News blog:

Agenda for EDDC Cabinet meeting which will discuss the future of The Knowle


Interesting that the full URL of the link above is: http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/cabinet_agenda_170713_-_public_version.pdf
Public version!

Page 19 of agenda papers shows that the Knowle will be debated on 17 July 2013 (this agenda) and will be decided on 25 July 2013.  Now isn’t that strange – the “stakeholders meeting” regarding the Knowle is not until 26 July 2013!!!

As well as The Knowle being discussed there is also an item on the flooding problem in Feniton and the cost of dualling the A303 and a paper about a difference of opinion on whether Broadclyst can go forward with a Neighbourhood Plan (EDDC says no: it must be a reduced area so as not to interfere with the growth of Cranbrook).  Interestingly, on this one, two completely different companies write almost exactly the same response agreeing with EDDC!

Discussion of options for The Knowle start on page 40. 
Another £95,000 is being requested to take the relocation project forward.  The cost model for refurbishment of Knowle starts on page 55. 
The “Project Viability” report starts on page 79. 
Financial viability information starts on page 97.   
Page 106 shows the completion of a potential timetable that shows EDDC moved to new offices by 11 July 2016.  
Funding options start on page 107.  
Risks identified starts on page 109. 
Recommendations start on page 112. 
“Affordability” starts on page 114.

And comment on the District Council's press release 
at Independent Cllr Claire Wright'a blog:

Options for Knowle move will be debated at cabinet

Claire | Tuesday, 09 July 2013
comments (2)

EDDC has today, issued the following press release:

OPTIONS for the future of East Devon District Council’s offices will be debated on Wednesday 17 July.
EDDC’s Cabinet will consider a report outlining all the options available to the Council, which include staying at Knowle with reconfigured or rebuilt offices or moving to an alternative location.
The full report is viewable on EDDC’s website at:http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/cabinet_agenda_170713_-_public_version.pdf
Officers are recommending that Knowle options are not pursued further because of the high costs of maintenance, refurbishment or a new building on the site and instead to formally explore new sites with a particular focus on opportunities in Honiton or Cranbrook.
The Council continues to pledge that any move will not add to the Council Tax and will help to reduce the running costs of the Council in the future.
In addition, the report asks councillors to confirm the objective of handing over the Knowle Park public space to Sidmouth Town Council as part of any relocation plan.
EDDC are also planning to set up a district-wide Stakeholder Group to share and discuss the relocation process and look at the ways customer contact and services are provided. The special stakeholder meeting on 26 July could be the first step towards setting up this new group.
Down the drain
Council Leader Paul Diviani says: “All the evidence suggests that trying to stay at Knowle is like pouring taxpayers’ money down the drain. The current buildings need over £1.5M spending on them in essential repairs alone - but even then the running costs will be huge.
The alternatives of using just the Victorian buildings, with considerable refurbishment, or building new office blocks on the site and sharing the site with some residential uses are prohibitively expensive.
“Exploring Honiton and Cranbrook options as well as others that may arise can give us the opportunity to provide modern offices which are low cost to run and give taxpayers across East Devon value for money. New ways of working will allow us to have more of our staff mobile and out in the district.  We are committed to retaining a significant office presence in Exmouth and making ourselves available in our other towns as well.
“The reality is the majority of our customers do not visit us in person but instead choose to deal with the Council by phone or email. We want to make this as easy as possible for people and expand the number of services that people can access through these methods.”
Potential sites
The two sites being looked at in Honiton are a site on Church Hill and the Council’s own Heathpark site. Church Hill has the advantages of being a well connected, central location but it is currently in use. Heathpark is a simpler proposition because it is already owned by the Council although it is not especially central. 
Any move to Heathpark would see new offices being located next to the existing business centre
Cranbrook was originally ruled out because it seemed unlikely that the town would be developed enough when a move might be anticipated. However with Cranbrook High Street moving forward apace and a revised timetable for any Knowle move following the delays over recent months it is now considered worth exploring. 
Cranbrook sites are on the high street and have good connectivity by bus, rail and road although it is in the western part of the district which means that the Council will also have to be mobile and available across our towns.  Other sites may also come forward in future and the Council will consider these as well.
A number of options for Knowle have been considered. The “do nothing” option would see over £1.5M needing to be spent on essential repairs to the current buildings and the continued drain on council finances from buildings which are very expensive to run, energy inefficient and inadequate for running modern services.
The Council also looked at three other options. Option 1 would retain the Victorian building, spending large sums to bring it up to modern standards and sharing some of the space with residential development, demolishing the newer office blocks for car parking and building homes on the former upper car park and Manstone Depot sites.
Option 2 would be to build new offices and car parks on the site of the current offices and homes on the other two sites.
Option 3 would be to build new offices on the upper car park, using an extended lower car park for parking and build homes on the site of the Victorian building and the depot site.
However, sharing the site with the Council offices and associated traffic is unlikely to be attractive to any residential developer and therefore any cash realised from such an approach would fall far short of what is required by the Council to stick to its commitment not to add a burden to taxpayers.
Planning issues
The Council has just proposed minor changes to its draft Local Plan, which will be considered on Thursday 18 July. These would include changes to the originally proposed development boundary of Knowle.
Under this scenario, if the Council were to move from Knowle to new premises it would seek to sell the Knowle site and Manstone depot to achieve the best financial outcome and deliver over 40% of any development as affordable homes.
This approach balances a significant housing delivery of both private and affordable homes for Sidmouth and provides enough money to fund the relocation.
Next steps
If the Cabinet accept the officers’ recommendations the next step will be to do further work on investigating the alternative sites and bring a detailed report on negotiations around those options back to Cabinet and Full Council.


1. At 06:53 pm on 09th Jul Sandra Semple wrote:
Try getting to Heathpark or Cranbrook from Seaton if you don’t have a car - impossible!
On the other hand, there is an enormous empty site next to Seaton Tesco!!!

2. At 10:22 pm on 09th Jul hibou wrote:
Why do none of the options use the new building at Knowle? Are EDDC saying they are even worse than the Victorian buildings. If so heads should roll. If more services are “outsourced” to Exmouth and other towns, why are the newer offices at Knowle not sufficient and suitable. And why not explore the use of the Victorian Knowle as office space for a private company who may see the benefit of spending money on it to realise an impressive headquarters? This rather than housing.


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