“Quite honestly, we have fallen flat on our face” with the relocation project, warns Honiton Councillor, Peter Halse

At last night’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee senior Tory councillor Peter Halse lashed EDDC’s Relocation Project. He said it risked the Council’s reputation for financial prudence. “At the time (the relocation project) looked OK, but now, with hindsight, it looks pretty bad….Quite honestly we have fallen flat on our face!” He was sceptical about Deputy CEO Richard Cohen’s claimed energy savings, and said employees based in the newer 1970/1980s building, “can’t see any reason why they’d want to move”. He concluded “It’s not just the leadership who are responsible. We need to look this thing full in the face. We can get out of this”.

Sidmouth resident Richard Eley, had already mauled Richard Cohen’s assumptions on future energy cost savings which were “way out of line” with those predicted by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Mr Cohen in response welcomed the fact that auditors would now be taking “a useful look under the bonnet, as it were”. In the meantime a preferred developer had now been selected for a mix of care home and residential properties at Knowle. The planning process would have to be gone through by the developer and further attempts to delay the Knowle sale have been factored in to the costs, he added.

When Independent Cllr Claire Wright expressed concern that EDDC’s planning committee would be under extreme pressure to grant permission to develop the Knowle because the whole relocation project depended on it, she was accused of casting doubt on the integrity of councillors.

Independent Councillor Roger Giles didn’t get a clear answer from Mr Cohen about where his 10% annual energy inflation figures came from, only that they were “conservative”! And there was no answer to Cllr Giles’ second question about how much extra the renovation of Exmouth Town Hall would cost.

Tory Cllr Graham Troman (Vice Chair of the OSC) said the Knowle site was an appreciating asset while refurbished offices or new-build on an industrial estate (e.g. Heathpark) would not recoup the money spent on them.

Tory Cllr Sheila Kerridge urged her colleagues to show transparency and “not to be seen to be doing things underhand….Put the matter on hold until we know the figures”. (echoing Cllr Claire Wright’s proposal voted down a few weeks earlier.

Chair Tim Wood concluded that all would be examined in great detail by the auditors so there was no cause for alarm.

The second burning issue was the suggested reform of Task and Finish Forums.

A proposal from a Democratic Services Officer (advised by CEO Mark Williams?) that the scope of TAFFs should be proposed by officers, seemed pretty well acceptable to the obedient majority – though it is going to be thought about first by one of Cllr Bloxham’s Think Tanks.

The controversial Business TAFF will continue with the same members as before, but without too much embarrassing looking back at relations with the East Devon Business Forum whose demise seemed to be lamented by Deputy Leader Andrew Moulding. He assured everyone that the TAFF will now have perfectly respectable relations with the new East Devon Business Group which genuinely represented the District’s entrepreneurs.It was time to turn the page, he said, and stop attacking the perceived influence of the EDBF on crucial planning decisions. The representative from Axminster concluded,fittingly, that he was not “trying to sweep anything under the carpet!”

7 thoughts on ““Quite honestly, we have fallen flat on our face” with the relocation project, warns Honiton Councillor, Peter Halse

  1. Pingback: Does Exeter have its own vanity project? | East Devon Watch
  2. Pingback: Richard Cohen on the marketing of Knowle and related issues | Save Our Sidmouth
  3. The East Devon tories make much of their reputation for financial prudence. Do they actually mean what they say, or do they just believe that if they repeat it often enough people will believe it?
    I remember this was a claim made on all their leaflets during the last, 2011, local election campaign. This was despite their having wasted a very large six figure sum on a pointless and very dubious legal adventure amongst other things. Perhaps because they were able to conceal the true purpose of this escapade and were never properly pursued over it this didn’t make more than a ripple in the public consciousness.
    During that campaign they (or some of them at least) were also concealing at least three serious financial matters from their opponents and the electorate. None of which have been properly pursued to a conclusion and one of which has had more of our money thrown at it to sustain a fig leaf.
    There were other promises on those leaflets which they were actively working against during the same campaign.
    As individuals many of them do good work for their communities. They are, we are told, the best party for deaf supporters to approach if you need a dead cat removed from your property.
    However, as a large, unrepresentative, undemocratically elected group we cannot trust them with our money or to tell the truth.
    The relationship between the senior officers and the group or it’s hierarchy also gives grave concern. As an example, any who saw Nigel Harrison’s performance at the EDBF TAFF would know that the Graham Brown investigation, and any other into EDBF issues, would not be considered adequate or thorough without a forensic investigation into Mr Harrison’s emails, phone accounts and diary. Then we have the reverential way in which Mr Williams is treated, despite a committee of MPs reacting as normal people would to his mischief. The same can be said for the wretched Mr Cohen, whose arrogance frustrated the Information Commisioner.
    The group needs to be culled in May, so that our electors can be given the chance of democratic and honest local government.

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  4. Who belongs to the new business group? Which companies do they represent and what fingers do they have in other East Devon pies? True, Councillor Moulding is not trying to sweep the muck from under the carpet: he’s removing the muck AND the carpet and saying: look, nothing there but a nice clean floor!

    I’m not fooled that easily but it seems most Tory councillors want to pretend the muck was never there. Just one question: if all is squeaky clean why exactly was ex-Councillor Brown expelled from his party?

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    • Will we get the usual suspects flying flags of convenience, i.e. allegedly representing business interests that perhaps don’t appear on their personal declorations and just to get over the fact that they are councillors.
      When I first came across the East Devon Busines Forum I was struck by who wasn’t on it- then I realised that they may be important businesses but they lacked land or an interest in developing same.

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  5. I suggest Cllr Peter Halse has said what a number of other Tories are thinking at East Devon, but are scared to admit. Having refused to listen to concerns of the Independents, they now realise there really are risks involved in their relocation strategy, which they unfortunately failed to evaluate. Peter Halse was right to say it is not just the fault of the Leadership, but they do remain ultimately responsible. This strategy was primarily based on officer advice. But that fails to include any consideration of the national political climate when we may have a new government. You cannot expect officers to advise on that. But you can expect the Council Leadership to think that through in detail. They may well deny it, but I suspect, for whatever reason, they did not give it a second thought. If they had done so, the December vote may have been delayed until June. For fear of loosing face, they rushed it.
    Suddenly realising that everyone is watching, some of the Sidmouth EDDC councillors are starting to back track. But it is too late. They had the opportunity to vote to delay the relocation process, but chose not to do so. Seven opposition councillors did vote for a delay, none of them from Sidmouth or the surrounding area. And certainly, none of them actually put Sidmouth first. Not even Cllr Stuart Hughes.
    But there is one alternative. That is to vote Independent on 7th May 2015. Then we stand a chance of putting this totally unnecessary mess right.

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  6. Pingback: Some scrutiny at last night’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee | Save Our Sidmouth

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