Controversial works at The Knowle put on hold

The developers behind the controversial scheme to redevelop the former East Devon District Council HQ into an assisting living community are now ‘considering their options’ for the site.

Daniel Clark

Planning permission, after an appeal against the initial refusal, was granted in January 2018 to convert the Knowle in Sidmouth into a 113-apartment assisted living community.

Lifestory eventually completed the purchase of the site in January 2020 – a month later than the legal agreement stipulated they were required to – but 14 months on, little in the way of substantial works at the site have been carried out.

And while Lifestory have confirmed that they have carried out some ‘initial works’ on the site and thus the planning permission for the redevelopment has been implemented, they are currently ‘reviewing the consented development’.

Marc Evans, regional managing director for Lifestory, said: “We’ve been carrying out some initial works on site lately and whilst the permission has been implemented, we’ve also been reviewing the consented development.

“For a number of reasons, including our experience elsewhere, we’re changing our focus in terms of the types of later living schemes we’re likely to be developing in future. As a result, we’re now considering options for the site’s redevelopment, which we’ve spoken to the Council about.

“We’ll continue to talk to the Council over the coming weeks and we’re keen to make sure that the site’s redevelopment is successfully achieved.”

In 2015, the council decided to relocate from its current headquarters at the Knowle in Sidmouth to new offices in Honiton and Exmouth. And to finance the move, the council agreed to sell its Knowle headquarters to Pegasus Life Ltd for £7.5million.

But those plans were initially thrown into jeopardy when a planning application by Pegasus Life for a 113-apartment assisted-living community for older people was refused by the council’s planning committee, only for panning inspector Michael Boniface to allow the appeal.

A CGI showing Pegasus Life's planned development of retirement apartments at the Knowle in Sidmouth, which was refused planning permission by East Devon District Council in December

A CGI showing Pegasus Life’s planned development of retirement apartments at the Knowle in Sidmouth, which was refused planning permission by East Devon District Council in December

East Devon District Council then moved out of the Knowle in February 2019, with two thirds of the staff moving to the new Heathpark HQ in Honiton, and one third to the refurbished Exmouth town hall.

The Heathpark HQ cost the council £8.7m, while an additional £1.5m was spent on upgrading Exmouth town hall where one third of the council staff are to be based.

In January 2020, East Devon received the full purchase price of £9,019,605 from Lifestory for the site, plus an additional £38,000 as a penalty for the late payment.

The Knowle, Sidmouth

The Knowle, Sidmouth

The site was handed over to Lifestory in 2020 for them to begin works to convert the former HQ into an assisted living community for older people, comprising of extra care units, staff accommodation and communal facilities, including a kitchen, restaurant, bar, café, a well-being suite, a gym, treatment rooms and pool, comprehensive landscaping and groundworks.

Construction phasing plans – a condition of the initial planning permission – were submitted and approved in November 2020, but after starting initial works to implement the planning permission, Lifestory are now considering the options for the site’s redevelopment.