Surprise, surprise! The following statement has just been issued by East Devon District Council:
25 November 2014
Development at Knowle and changes to destination to be considered by cabinet
Significant changes to the preferred location of new council offices in East Devon will be discussed at cabinet next week (Wednesday, 3 December).
Cabinet will hear the latest developments since it was last reported in February and how changing market conditions mean that SkyPark is no longer the preferred option.
Whilst SkyPark has been the leading contender as the relocation site, the council was very clear that no decision was going to be made on the final location until all the facts and figures were known with other key pieces in what is a complex jigsaw slotting in to place.
Instead, recommendations to cabinet are to retain the council-owned Heathpark site in Honiton and potentially combine East Devon Business Centre with a new headquarters. This will allow existing tenants of the business centre to remain.
In addition, it is recommended that the council use the existing office space at Exmouth Town Hall, recently vacated by Devon County Council. This would allow for a smaller building in Honiton and existing tenants at Exmouth Town Hall to remain.
Marketing of Heathpark began last year and the highest value commercial interest came from a supermarket operator. The offer price negotiated at that time was attractive as part of the funding package to relocate to SkyPark but the supermarket reduced its offer in line with a new business sector model. The reduced offer makes a sale of the site no longer attractive.
In response to marketing of Knowle and Manstone, a mix of proposals were received, which contained variations on residential, retirement and/or care and extra care communities whilst retaining the public park. All proposals were based on the removal of existing buildings at Knowle (whilst keeping or re-provisioning the bat roost). A range of matters still need to be explored before selecting a preferred bidder but once selected, it will be for the developer to enter into discussions with the planning authority to explore proposals.
Among the bids are proposals to develop Knowle only. It could well be that a preferred developer is selected that leaves Manstone to continue operating as a depot for the time being. The depot functions currently provided at Knowle Depot would be transferred across to Manstone.
New build at Honiton and refurbishment of Exmouth Town Hall will be funded by capital receipts and prudent borrowing. Over a 20 year period the spend will at least pay for itself with savings accruing after then. This would allow the council to remove itself from a costly, uncertain and increasingly impractical future at Knowle.
Essential repair works to existing buildings would cost £1.5 million and there is no funding allocation to cover this cost. Refurbishment of all existing buildings would cost up to £15.9m. Knowle has high annual energy costs of £83,900 per year compared to a predicted energy cost for Honiton/Exmouth combined of £33,700 per year.
Operationally, a twin site approach accommodating around 250 officers will be supported by mobile working. The council aims to expand its digital offering and has an ongoing project to improve existing online transactions and develop a further online service for customers who would like to do their business online.
Sites in two of East Devon’s major towns provide an ideal opportunity for the council to respond to the demand for various services. It is clear there is a need to increase service provision for housing benefits, Council Tax, housing advice and register and debt advice in both Exmouth and Honiton and there would be significant demand led presences in Sidmouth and Axminster.
The council would provide surgeries in other towns as they do in Cranbrook, Seaton, Ottery St Mary and would experiment with frequency and range of services depending on demand.
In the longer term, the council needs to consider the shape of local government. A combined Honiton and Exmouth office base offers a more flexible approach to our accommodation requirements involving new and modernised offices in two locations. In a world of increasing co-operation between local authorities, a smaller headquarters and an accessible presence around the district offers a better proposition for our customers.
If a successor organisation or other local government arrangement inherited Knowle from the council it is unlikely that such care would be shown toward its future use as shown by the East Devon District Council.
Cabinet’s decision next week will then be considered by full council on Wednesday, 17 December.