In a brave, but probably for some politically-suicidal gesture, six of Sidmouth’s seven district councillors met their electors last night at a public meeting organised by the Sid Vale Association to discuss their attitude to Office Relocation Project.
The packed, at times angry meeting in the Dissenters Chapel overran the planned one and a half hours. The key headlines for the evening:
• Councillors Drew, Kerridge, Newth, Sullivan, and Wale basically supported leaving the Knowle, despite protestations of regret, and parroted well-worn phrases, “not fit for purpose”. “too expensive to refurbish”, “people working in bathrooms”.
• Councillors Troman and Hughes oppose the move. Troman mentioning the disastrous loss of jobs; Hughes (in a statement, he was at a County meeting) saying it was the wrong time to be moving, and development of the Knowle site would add to Sidmouth’s flood risk.
• Despite having attended a morning briefing (from Richard Cohen?) most of the councillors seemed out of their depth with the technical details of the project. Christine Drew didn’t even realise a big chunk of the gardens had been offered to developers! Many of the audience were far better informed. Her remark early on in the meeting, that “You’re doing our job for us!” seemed rather ironical.
Stand out contributions from the floor came from:
• Richard Thurlow of Save our Sidmouth who demolished the Council’s figure of £5.5 million in energy saving as a result of the move.
• Richard Eley completed the job saying that Richard Cohen’s estimates of 10% annual energy prices increases over 20 years with 2% annual inflation were “rubbish”, and adding that EDDC’s embedded consultant Steve Pratten would end up costing taxpayers £1 million.
• Keith Northover (Knowle Drive Residents’ Association) pointed out that Robin Fuller’s detailed study in 2012 showed the viability of refurbishing the 1980’s purpose-built offices which could easily accommodate the fewer employees that will be needed.
• Mike Temple passionately condemned the possible destruction of one of the finest gardens in the county as the upper lawns had been included in the area to be developed (apparently by a unilateral decision of Richard Cohen).
• Michael Brittain said it was incedible EDDC felt they needed to move when their existing conditions were better than many hospitals enjoyed.
• Town councillor John Dyson pointed out-as did several others -that relocation would only start to save money after ten years but that the life expectancy of EDDC, because of inevitable local government reorganisation was likely to be less than five.
• John Rayson, who worked for many years at the Knwle, said the staff liked working there and didn’t want to move.
Sadly, it was clear that most of Sidmouth’s representatives were out of touch with their electors. As one frustrated resident shouted out “Start standing up for Sidmouth!”
Some predict a serious electoral cull in the town next Spring
Footnote from an EDA observer, on the above picture: “It would be nice to think enlightenment of the church comes from Tesco – but I think it is just a street lamp”.