“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.”