Save our Sidmouth report on council flagrant and reckless overspending on relocation

“Richard Thurlow, who Chaired Save Our Sidmouth from the beginning, and is currently Chair of the Sid Vale Association’s Environment and Planning Committee, gave this speech to Full Council last night. He received no response to the issues he raised. Along with those of other speakers, they were neatly brushed under the carpet by the Mark Williams. Although all wrapped up in time for Christmas, so to say, these issues will inevitably be reopened and on view throughout the New Year.

This is what Richard Thurlow said:

” The first cost estimate for Exmouth Town Hall (ETH) in March 2015 was £0.96m. The report to council said “The proposal to refurbish ETH has been tested and supported by independent analysis”!!

The second cost estimate was £ 1.261m

The latest cost is £1.669m.

Thus in 18 months the cost has risen by about £700k, a rise of 70% over the original estimate, and it is now more than the cost for the refurbishment of the Knowle which was £1.566m.

To the estimate of £1.669m must be added, fitting out, moving costs, staff reimbursement for travel and inconvenience, (for three years), etc, probably nearer £2m.

Your Deputy Chief Executive has persuaded Cabinet to underwrite a spend of £1.669m without adequate rationale; there are NO reasons given in his Report other than a wish to occupy ETH more quickly; no economic breakdown, no total cost, no assessments of the advantages and disadvantages of the proposal which would have enabled you to base your decision on facts.
The project is out of control.

I say this based on my experience over 40 years on projects worldwide in a major Building and Civil Engineering Consultancy. I have seen a few dodgy projects in that time and this is one of them!

If you support the proposal, I have to say that this will come back to haunt you!”

EDDC relocation has hallmarks of a “dodgy project”, Full Council is advised.

Devolution deal quashed as people not consulted on whether they wanted it!

Surely this applies to Devon and Somerset where NONE OF US have been asked if we want it?

“A consultation on whether to expand the Sheffield City Region to include the Chesterfield area has been ruled unlawful by the High Court.

The judicial review was brought by Derbyshire County Council, which objects to the inclusion of Chesterfield – which lies within its administrative area – being included in the Sheffield City Region.

Mr Justice Ouseley ruled that the consultation failed to ask local people a direct question about whether or not they believed Chesterfield should become part of the Sheffield City Region. The judge said that this made the consultation unlawful and unfair and said that Sheffield City Region had provided no reasonable justification as to why it had not included such an obvious and fundamental question in the questionnaire.

The judgment does not quash the Sheffield City Region’s devolution consultation but further consultation is required before it can be considered by the Secretary of State. …”

A relocation cost swept under the carpet?

A planning application for brand new offices at EDDC’s Manstone Depot turns out to be brand new accommodation for the Estates department. EDDC will now have new or refurbished offices in Exmouth, Honiton and Sidmouth.

Surely this is yet another relocation cost and likely to go over budget, just like every other project this year – some of which have been 70-100% over budget.

Tory councillors refuse spending scrutiny role and trust (vastly overspent) officers

East Devon Alliance and other Independent councillors show their mettle – Tories show their inadequacy.

There was a distinct lack of seasonal goodwill last night at the full meeting of East Devon District Council which was well attended by the public.

Four speakers from Exmouth lambasted the council for the mega-shambles emerging over the development of Queen’s Drive.

There was anger that the wishes of local people for a town centre upgrade and a modest refurbishment of the seafront had been ignored. Replaced, without consultation, by a grandiose council project to commercialise the seafront with shops, a cinema and blocks of flats.

Two Sidmouth residents kept up the pressure. One questioned the financial competence of the Council with relocation costs spiralling: £600,000 more for Exmouth Town Hall, £400,000 more for Knowle.

Another asked the Chief Executive to warn planning committee councillors against bias in favour of any future application to develop the Knowle because it would advance the relocation project. This seemed to have happened at the December 6th DMC meeting, but the CEO was unconcerned.

When councillors came to quiz council leaders it was noticeable that not a single Conservative asked a question.

But there was a barrage from Independents and Lib Dems. The refrain was that the leadership never gave straight answers to questions about its accounting for public money; it was incompetent in keeping costs under control, and it kept councillors in the dark about what was happening.

East Devon Alliance Independent councillor Megan Armstrong prised out of Philip Skinner, Exmouth “regeneration” portfolio holder, the admission that there would be no independent public consultation on Queen’s Drive which over 4000 Exmouthians had voted for in a Town Poll.

Nonetheless, EDDC would be spending over £60000 to get renewed planning permission for the development.

East Devon Alliance Independent Councillor Cathy Gardner grew increasingly frustrated at Leader Paul Diviani’s failure to answer questions. Why was the contact with Pegasus life for the sale of the Knowle kept secret? Why was the project manager of the Queen’s Drive affair not sacked for “ineptitude”? And what action would be taken against the same officer who had publicly expressed personal frustration at the refusal of the Pegasus Life planning application for the Knowle?

Eileen Wragg (Lib Dem) questioned where the £3million to move the roadway in Queen’s Drive was coming from. She knew that County did not have funds ear-marked. The Chief Executive admitted that applications had gone out for funding, but nothing had been agreed yet.

Rob Longhurst (Independent) said the leadership seemed to think £600000 more on Exmouth Town Hall was “small money” that didn’t require detailed accounting. “I like to see numbers”, he added. Support came from fellow independent Roger Giles who quoted an earlier Council Leader Peter Halse who said when it came to costings it was not good enough for the council leaders to say “Just trust us”.

Finally, Cllr Longhurst, seconded by Independent Ben Ingham, proposed an amendment that councillors should be updated every six months with detailed costings of the council’s projects.

“Unnecessary!” chorused a succession of Tory councillors. They said leave it to the internal auditors Southwest Audit Partnership, forgetting, perhaps, that SWAP was strongly criticised in 2013 for an “anodyne” report on the governance implications of the Graham Brown affair which suggested it was in too cosy a relationship with Council leaders.

A vote on the amendment was lost with 30 Tory councillors voting in a block against it.

Bleating sounds could be heard coming from a member of the public!

Generation Rent: more bad news

“Twenty years ago the average deposit put down on a property by a first-time buyer was £2,095, according to Council of Mortgage Lenders’ figures, whereas today that figure stands at £24,300.

A deposit today takes up 61 per cent of a first-time buyer borrowers’ annual average individual or joint earnings, compared to just 12 per cent two decades ago.

And if you look at the chart of average first-time buyer income over the past 20 years, you can see a period emerge where the norm went from buying a first home on their own to buying as a couple. Today’s deposit would eat up far more of most individual salaries than 61 per cent.”

Getting on your bike … and how that might affect the Knowle

Does anyone recall a government minister of the past (Norman Tebbit) telling young people that, if they wanted a job, they should “get on their bikes” and go to where the jobs were most prevalent?

What happens if you want to own your own home? Where do you go if you are on an average wage? The cheaper homes are largely in the north, but that is also where there are fewer well-paid jobs and, if you are from the West Country, that’s where family and friends are.

So, you rent where homes are expensive to buy, but where the jobs are and where your friends and family are. In this situation, not only will you never be able to own a home (unless you have a bank of mum and dad), you will also probably be paying nearly double in rent what you might have paid on a mortgage (see post below)!

Yet here in East Devon, and in the county as a whole, our housing policy is to build lots of bigger, more expensive houses in the most desirable and expensive places.

Ah, you say, but what about that wonderful new town of Cranbrook? Well, what about it? Cranbrook is turning out to be a mecca for buy to let landlords – perpetuating the high rent scenario that stops young people with low wages getting on the home ownership ladder, unless they are lucky or unlucky enough to be a two-wage childless couple with a bank of mum and dad.

How did we get here? By successive governments putting their faith in the free market and developers. And legislating for them in Local Plans (devised by those self-same developers!).

Social and truly affordable homes have been abandoned to greed.

EDDC could, if they had wished, have turned the Knowle over to a Community Land Trust which could have built affordable homes for local people. A CLT could have taken out a 40 year loan to pay back EDDC, the proceeds of which could have paid back THEIR 40 year loan for their new HQ. Instead EDDC is taking out a 40 year loan on a new HQ in Honiton which WE, the taxpayers, pay back and for which we get – nothing except mega-luxury retirement housing.

Though it is still not too late … with the PegasusLife planning application turned down, perhaps it is time for EDDC to do some of that “systems thinking” that they endlessly trumpet.

Don’t hold your breath.

Telegraph: “The rise of Generation Rent: number of young homeowners halved in the last 20 years”

And what is the government’s answer? Build nore expensive homes to buy!

“The number of 25-year-olds who own their own home has more than halved in the last 20 years as soaring prices and a generational shift have knocked young people off the housing ladder.

Research by Savills for the Local Government Association found that 46pc of all 25-year-olds owned their home 20 years ago, compared to 20pc now. It is not just young people who have been left out of home ownership, which has fallen among people of all ages 6.8pc since the peak in October 2004, and it now stands at 64.1pc.

This fall has been caused by the high cost of living, which has grown at a faster rate than wages. While renters pay an average 34pc of their total household income on rent, and social renters pay 29pc; the average homeowner pays just 18pc their income on a mortgage.

Average house prices are now at 7.9 times average earnings, with the need for a high deposit creating an impassable barrier for some young aspiring homeowners. …”

Judicial review on “biased consultation” could be pointer for NHS consultation

“Ministers have been accused of launching an “unlawful” consultation on the second part of the Leveson inquiry meant to investigate corrupt dealings between the press and police, as well as new legal costs provisions.

Two victims of press intrusion and an investigative website have filed a claim for a judicial review of the decision to consult on two remaining aspects of the Leveson inquiry, set up in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

Former Crimewatch presenter Jacqui Hames, online news publisher Byline Media, and an anonymous phone-hacking victim have jointly filed the claim against the lawfulness of the consultation exercise, claiming to be “particularly affected by any decision to resile from the promises made”.

The claim against the culture, media and sport department and the Home Office states that the 10-week consultation seeking the public’s views is “misleading and unbalanced in fundamental ways, which render it plainly unfair”.

It argues that the consultation launched by the culture secretary, Karen Bradley, is unlawful because both Leveson part two and the controversial section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 concerning legal costs were previously promised, and because the consultation document itself is biased.

…Evan Harris, joint executive director of Hacked Off, said: “This legal challenge is no surprise, given the shameless conduct of the government in breaking its promises to victims, intervening to frustrate the will of parliament, and issuing a consultation paper so biased that it could have been written by the Daily Mail or the Sun.” …

Government to use old technology to get fast(er) broadband to rural areas

They will use copper wire technology rather than fibre which may mean that although people may get faster broadband they will be in the slow lane of the digital highway. And what about the 3% NOT connected by 2020?

” … The scheme will deliver superfast broadband of up to 24Mbps , which will allow families to watch TV on multiple devices at the same time or let children do homework while parents do online shopping or banking.

The government says the rollout means that the proportion of the UK population that can get superfast broadband has risen from just 45% in 2010 to 90%. The goal is 97% by 2020.

“We have made great progress but there is still more to do,” said Bradley.”