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Thursday, 4 June 2015

Knowle relocation project: extraordinary District Council meeting >>> Wednesday 3rd June >>> reports

There has already been quite a bit of response following the debate at Knowle last night:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: and the 'delivery of information'
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: and “structural stupidity”

The Express & Echo is the first newspaper to publish a report on the evening:

Angry exchanges in Sidmouth as council debates motion to block office move for six months

By Exeter Express and Echo | Posted: June 04, 2015



Cllr Stuart Hughes tells Mr Freeman to stop




Mr Freeman spoke of secret agendas and was told to stop



A member of the public speaking at the debate



Cllr Cathy Gardner led the debate



Douglas Hull for the Lib Dems backed the Conservatives



The Knowle is set in beautiful grounds



The Knowle 's landscape could be redeveloped if sold



The leaders of the council came under fire from several speakers


Bitter words were exchanged at the Knowle in Sidmouth last night as East Devon District Councillors (EDDC) clashed with a member of the public and each other over the controversy surrounding a proposed move of offices.

The Extraordinary meeting of the EDDC was held on the request of Councillors Cathy Gardner, David Barratt, Matt Booth, Matt Coppell and John Dyson to discuss a motion that would suspend the plans to progress with the move for six months so the process could be examined.

Members of the public were given the opportunity to speak before the full debate took place. David Scott said the move to Exmouth was long overdue and he was also concerned about a report in the Express and Echo in which someone had spoken about ‘lies’ regarding the matter. He hoped the chairman would look into the matter. Other speakers said selling the Knowle and its car parks was a mistake as they were lucrative assets that should remain in the town.

Michael Temple said the proposed move from the Knowle had been conducted in an undemocratic way, while Jackie Green pointed out that Hugo Swire MP had cautioned against the move and it was prudent to wait before making a costly move.

It was the comments by Paul Freeman that brought drama to the council chamber. Mr Freeman said the Tribunal’s judgement concerning the way the move had been handled should not be understated. He said: “It goes to the heart of whether this council can be trusted and whether it will lie and cheat in order to protect its secret agendas and undemocratic process.”

He continued in his criticism until he was prevented from speaking by the chairman Stuart Hughes who said he did not like his tone and his attacks on his officers. Mr Freeman asked why he was being stopped and the chairman replied he was calling him to order during a heated exchange of words.

The chamber was packed with members of the public with standing room only during the debate. In general those speaking in favour of the motion to suspend further progress on the office move gained more applause, but there was plenty of vocal support for the councillors who were against the motion.

The Chief Executive Mark Williams in reply said the points had been debated previously and said it was not for him to comment on what Hugo Swire MP had to say at a hustings.

Cllr Cathy Gardner opened the full debate by saying the issue was about process and the way the council had gone about planning the move. She said: “Our concerns centre on the process that has been followed over the last eight years and in particular the consequences of the extra-ordinary levels of secrecy that have been applied. Councillors who were in office during this time, some since 2008, have only just realised how hidden some of the information has been and indeed still is. Were you aware that only four elected Members were fully informed from 2013 until now?”

She said the four were making major decisions for over 130,000 residents as well as the council.

She continued: “The people of East Devon deserve a decision made by all their elected representatives in an open, accountable and democratic way with decisions based on the all the facts. Our request for a six month delay is to allow that to happen.”

Cllr Matt Booth who seconded the motion said he was elected in May to question the decision of the council and there should be greater transparency in the way decisions were made. Cllr Roger Giles wondered why the plan was now for Exmouth and Honiton for the new location of the offices when originally it had been Skypark and implied the plans could change again.

Cllr Mark Williamson was against the motion saying it had failed the three tests of risk, cost and governance. He said the Knowle was not fit for the purpose and the move should be speeded up. Cllr Paul Carter was also keen to see the move happen saying it was an exciting time with the chance for a new office with full access for the disabled - unlike the Knowle.

The Conservatives received support in blocking the motion from the Liberal Democrats. Cllr Douglas Hull also pointed out the problems for wheel chair users in visiting the Knowle and that people in the east of the county didn’t care where the offices were located.

In the end a recorded vote was taken in which the motion was defeated by 38 votes to 16.

The leader of the council Cllr Paul Diviani said: “As was demonstrated by the election results, this move is what the majority of people of East Devon are clearly in favour of. However, it was only democratic that these councillors, whose main issue has always been to oppose the office move, were given the opportunity to air their concerns again about the relocation project.”

He said that office moves in the public sector were always contentious but the savings made in the long term would justify the decision to move.


Comments


Paul-F | June 04 2015, 7:42PM

The tribunal judgement can be read here: 
www.informationtribunal.gov.uk/DBFiles/Decision/i1540/East Devon District Council EA.2014.0072 (05.05.2015).pdf 
Unfortunately Chairman Stuart Hughes stopped me before I was able to make my main points, but these were: 
1. It seems highly inappropriate for the CEO to nominate the Chief Legal Officer to investigate a court judgement which criticises the legal submissions to the court - this is a clear conflict of interest. 
2. It is difficult to see how any internal investigation could be seen as independent. What is really needed is an independent investigation by a suitable external authority. 
3. Since it is entirely possible that submission of illegible documents when legible ones existed broke the law, I was going to call for the CEO to report this matter to the police for formal investigation. 
4. If the CEO would not report this to the police, then since the Chairman is responsible under the council's constitution for the reputation and probity of the council, I was going to call for the Chairman to refer this to the police for formal investigation.

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