By Exeter Express and Echo | Posted: February 25, 2015
The Knowle in Sidmouth
A LEADING East Devon District Councillor has accused the council of “forcing” a vote on its controversial relocation project ahead of the local elections in May.
The council’s relocation project is set to be decided upon next month, because of the looming local elections.
Ward member for Ottery St Mary Councillor Claire Wright, criticised council officials for prematurely “forcing” a vote on the project “just days “ before the pre-election period known as purdah which prevents council’s from making any major decisions so as not avoid the risk of prejudice.
The council was pursuing plans to relocate to a purpose built office at SkyPark. However, at the end of November, the local authority announced a U-turn on its plans and instead the council backed the revised plan for the council to retain the council-owned East Devon Business Centre at Heathpark in Honiton where a new build will also be constructed – formerly earmarked for a supermarket – and to use existing space at Exmouth Town Hall.
Councillors have been informed that a meeting of the Cabinet has been brought forward a week to March 11, and will include a report on the office relocation.
A joint meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny and Audit and Governance committees is being held the day later to make recommendations on the relocation report.
And, at an additional meeting of the full council on March 25, a decision will be made on the relocation.
Cllr Wright, said: “It is a shocking indictment of the way that the Conservative leadership operates at the Knowle.
“This is the most controversial and costly project, apart from the local plan, which incidentally has been deliberately delayed until after the election, in years.
“There has been stacks of concern about the facts and figures, as well as the enormous cost and the millions that would need to be borrowed.
“So, instead of waiting to allow a new council to make up its own mind on the plans, the Conservatives force through a vote, just days before the election period starts.
“What a disrespectful way to run a council.”
A council spokesperson, said: “The special council meeting to decide on the proposed office move needs to take place before the end of March so that the proceedings do not fall inside the purdah period leading up to the local election on May 7, during which time no major decisions can be taken.
“The scheduled date for Cabinet was March 18, but there would not have been sufficient time for the council to receive the paperwork from Cabinet so as to discuss it on March 25.
“It was therefore agreed that the cabinet meeting would take place on March 11, to allow more time.
“It also followed that the cabinet reports and recommendation would need to be referred to Overview & Scrutiny and Audit & Governance Committees before full council.
“The chairs of those committees have therefore agreed to meet in a single session on March 12, with one item on the agenda – office relocation.
“That will allow time for all the documentation to be processed and available for councillors to make an informed decision at their meeting on March 25.”
he added: “At full council in December, members rejected a proposal that the decision should be postponed until after the election and tasked the deputy chief executive with continuing to progress the project.
“In the interests of transparency, the cabinet deliberations must be scrutinised by both committees.”