More Knowle shenanigans- East Devon Alliance leader on the warpath

“Questions remain over East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) relocation project – amid rising costs and claims of a lack of transparency.

The authority has been accused of pushing ahead with the move away from Sidmouth to Honiton and Exmouth ‘at any cost’ after it approved adding nearly £700,000 to the bill.

Councillor Cathy Gardner last week argued proper scrutiny of the project cannot be achieved as long as documents are not made public. She also raised concerns about members being asked to endorse decisions relating to a contract – between the would-be developer of Knowle and the council – they have not even seen.

In response, EDDC leader Paul Diviani said the contract with PegasusLife is ‘commercially confidential’, but admitted that the developer could potentially ‘renegotiate’ a price for the site after its bid to build a retirement community was refused.

At a full council meeting last Wednesday, Cllr Gardner accused Cllr Diviani of failing to answer her questions and pressed for an answer on whether the contract with PegasusLife has an expiry date. Cllr Diviani said: “We have to wait to hear from PegasusLife. They have the option of coming through with re-submission, or appealing, and we will see what happens there.

“We will work to get the best possible result we can, but if it happens that the deal falls apart, then we will move forward.”

Cllr Gardner asked for reassurance that the £7.5million PegasusLife has agreed to pay could not be renegotiated.

Cllr Diviani said: “If the circumstances are such, then quite obviously they will be able to renegotiate, but let’s not have speculation about what’s going to happen, let’s have a decent dialogue with PegasusLife so we know exactly where we are going from here.”

Cllr Diviani refuted claims that EDDC’s approach to transparency involves releasing only documents relating to relocation that ‘no-one is interested in seeing and holding on to the rest’.

He said: “Documents will be released in due course. They are coming through on a fairly regular basis and it does take time to pull them all together, but they will be expedited as soon as they possibly can.”

Resident Richard Thurlow spoke out about increased costs relating to the refurbishment of Exmouth Town Hall ahead of relocation – which, he says, would now cost more than renovating the existing Knowle offices.

He claimed that there was no detail or adequate rationale to explain the reasons for the increased costs.”

Funding cuts? No worries – Jill and Hugo will fix it!

Councillor Jill Elson responds to news that new “fairer funding” that will cut £79,000 from Exmouth College (and even bigger cuts at other East Devon schools):

Reacting to the ‘fairer funding’ proposals, college chair of governors Jill Elson said: “We are very disappointed at the loss of £79,000, because we were hoping for an increase, as Devon is one of the lower- funded councils and we have to find this from our budget.

“We are very concerned about the loss when we have been asked to increase our pupil numbers to 2,900 by 2020.”

And she writes to Swire, who responds:

“Mr Swire said: “I welcome that the Government is committed to reforming the school funding system. The current system is outdated and inefficient, meaning that schools in areas such as Devon have not received their fair share of funding.

“However, I am disappointed that, under the Government’s initial proposals, some schools in East Devon would lose funding.

“This would clearly be entirely unacceptable and I will be raising this matter in Parliament.

“It is important to remember that these proposals only mark the beginning of a lengthy consultation and I would encourage anyone with an interest in how our schools are funded to take part in this.”