Relocation…the key question

..was asked tonight by Sidmouth Cllr Graham Troman. Speaking at the special combined meeting two Committees ( Overview & Scrutiny, and Audit & Governance), he was bold enough to put the essential question “Could the contract (for sale of the Knowle) be signed before the election?” . “Yes”, said Chair-for-the-occasion, Cllr Tim Wood.

Later in the meeting, it was also confirmed that the sale contract could be signed within the so-called ‘purdah’ pre-election period.

Further report on tonight’s session, which became rather heated at times, to follow soon.

Two questions to Cabinet last night

One was asked by Dr Cathy Gardner, a member of East Devon Alliance, who found a discrepancy in figures in the external auditors’ report. Her question to Head of the Relocation Project, Richard Cohen, was: “In paragraph 2 of the report from Grant Thornton and GLEES, the annual maintenance cost allowance is £145,000 per annum, but the maximum spend over the past five years was around £65, 000. How do you explain this?
The answer, from Mr Cohen and three of his colleagues, seemed to confirm there had been managed deterioration of the Knowle buildings (a familiar practice, some might say).

The next question came from possibly the youngest person ever to speak at an EDDC meeting, and who received a round of applause from the public present:
Here’s what she confidently said:
“Good Evening,
My name is Gemma Manley, I’m a Sidmothian, I am 16 and I am currently studying for my A-levels.
When it comes to the relocation project, like many others I am completely against it. However my question tonight is not why East Devon District Council think it is appropriate to refuse to prove to the public why this building is not fit for purpose. Nor why East Devon District Council feel it is appropriate to borrow millions to fund their absurd move. Nor even how they can sell one of East Devon’s greatest assets. But I want to simply ask, “Can the Leader of the council justify making the final decision on the project just weeks before the general and district elections? Does he honestly believe that this is the most democratic timing, especially when councillors will be asked to vote just BEFORE a Tribunal ruling on whether more documents, which EDDC wants to keep secret, should be revealed.
Thank you.

In case you missed our earlier post on the Cabinet meeting, you’ll find it here:

Not what EDDC does, only what EDDC says …

If, as (current) Leader Diviani believes (as he has recently said, that the consultants reports of 2013 on relocation were “not relevant” to current meetings (and their rescheduling to end hours before the Information Commission’s decision on said disclosure) –

Why has EDZdC spent £10,000 plus on legal advisers to attempt keep them secret?

Devon Libraries to become mutually owned

But, of course, if money is being saved, it has to come from somewhere. Volunteers (although dedicated, already fully stretched it communities and unfortunately inherently unreliable due to age and other committments) will need to run their local libraries on a shoestring, opening when they can be found rather than when the service is most needed.

Buildings will presumably be retained by DCC. If not, this will be an insurmountable problem for some libraries in older, outdated buildings, which will soon close or move to smaller and smaller and cheaper and cheaper premises until they gently disappear into the night with ne’er a trace.

When will this end? When we pay our community charges for no services, just to keep councillors and officers in meaningless jobs or( in EDDC’s case) to finance plush offices where all they do is service developers.

And, of course, if libraries do fail, they are on prime development land …

“A very noisy group of people in Sidmouth” have irritated Cllr Tim Wood

True to form, East Devon District Council’s all-Conservative Cabinet tonight voted unanimously to press on with relocation from the Knowle.

There were two questions from the public, from Dr Cathy Gardner of East Devon Alliance, and from 16-year-old Gemma Manley. (We’ll post details later)

Five Sidmouth Ward members were present (no sign of Cllr Hughes).

Graham Troman spoke out against the loss of Sidmouth jobs; the rising asset value of the Knowle site; and of the potential better use of the 1980s purpose-built offices.

Peter Sullivan asked if the Town Council would get a pay-out from EDDC to help maintain the gardens. Richard Cohen replied that a deal would probably be struck with them.

Frances Newth wondered how much the local ‘hubs’ would cost ( Cohen  said “Hubs” (his own term!) “is a bit of a misnomer” . EDDC would provide services, using existing sites where possible, but this would become clearer “when we know what the needs are”.

Cllrs Drew and Kerridge didn’t have any questions, as “Everything’s been asked”.

Ward member for Exmouth, Cllr Tim Wood congratulated the Sidmouth members “for fighting so well on behalf of Sidmouth”, and said they had got “an extraordinarily good deal. “I get annoyed”, he said,”When we are told we are abusing Sidmouth’s heritage”.  (Was he referring to the SVA publication, ‘A Stately Pleasure Dome’ ?).

But Cllr Pook reminded his colleagues that the relocation build costs “were going over our  budget”, and that he would rather have a “break even situation” . (EDWatch note: Yes, whatever happened to “Cost neutral”?)  “I take on board your challenge to keep costs down”, promised Richard Cohen.

Cllr Ian Thomas seemed to have overstepped the mark with his long list of concerns. The Leader impatiently chided him, saying  “How many questions are you going to ask?”  One of those questions was about risk, and what the consequences would be  “in the event that no planning permission was given”.

Rounding up the debate, Cllr Diviani acknowledged that £7-8million for Knowle “was not the best deal I thought we might have got” . There was “a blight on it from the planning application that got turned down”, he claimed, putting the blame for the low price entirely on Save Our Sidmouth!!!