EDDC Deputy CEO made redundant …

Well, well, well – Cohen, who came to EDDC with such glowing references is now surplus to requirements! How convenient – all the blame and all the questions about everything that has gone on under his watch can leave with him … and scrutiny is avoided because he won’t be there to answer any questions …

questions such as:

Queen’s Drive fiasco
Axminster Masterplan chaos
High Street decline inaction
Knowle sale
Blackdown House procurement issues …

add your own thoughts to this partial list …

Here’s the CEO’s “explanation” for the departure:

“Dear Cllrs,
As you are aware we are in the process of preparing the budget for 2020/21 and facing the difficult decisions that will be required.

As part of these preparations, I have had to give consideration to the reduction in workload for the Deputy Chief Executive Officer now that our office moves have taken place and the fact that this role is now effectively redundant.

For this reason, it has been agreed that Richard Cohen will leave the organisation on 31 March 2020. This has been the subject of consultation with the Leader and relevant portfolio holders.

We are currently also consulting with Richard’s direct reports [sic] and will soon be confirming details of changes to reporting lines and roles and responsibilities in the management team.

I am sure you will join me in thanking Richard for all he has achieved during his time at the Council and wishing him the very best for the future.

Yours sincerely,

Just remember: a redundant role cannot usually be filled for between 1 and 2 years … so how long before Williams declares himself overworked and in need of better remuneration … but again remember that for a while we shared him 50/50 with South Somerset – till they paid us to take him back early!

“How ‘basic’ Cranbrook has gone from pioneering new town to almost unfit for purpose”

Anyone remember the “good old days” when the likes of Diviani, Twiss, Thomas and others extolled the virtues of the “new” town – and even got themselves not one but TWO awards for it? Many people wondered how that had come about at the time!

Devon County Council pointed out its flaws FIVE ago in a 2014 in a damning reporht which identified ALL its current problems, but no-one at EDDC listened:

Now the price is being paid – this is what you get when your government and your council is developer-led.

And what does the current council leader suggest: ANOTHER talking shop!

Owl thinks a few heads should roll first for the mess the council finds itself in … starting with lead officers CEO Mark Williams and Deputy CEO Richard Cohen who have masterminded the omnishambles …

“… East Devon District Council’s cabinet on Wednesday night heard that the legal agreement that plays a critical role in establishing the trigger points for the delivery of facilities has become ‘an inflexible legal document which was negotiated in a different financial era’ and some of the facilities were ‘no longer fit for purpose’.

Among the current obligations is the Cranbrook Consortium must provide a children’s centre at 2,500 occupations. Devon County Council has now served notice on the consortium and requires them to design, construct and complete them by either June 10, 2021, or when 2,500 homes are occupied.

Andy Wood, projects director, told the meeting: “We are therefore in danger of defaulting to a scenario that may not be fit for purpose or affordable over the longer term. Given the looming trigger points we are rapidly approaching the point of no return. …”


“Knowlegate”: Del-Boy and the Trotters spring to mind – but just the fools (no horses that we know of)

“East Devon District Council’s senior management team have been rebuked by scrutiny councillors after failing to consider the public perception over the sell-off of assets from their former Knowle HQ.

The council this week completed its move from its former Sidmouth home at the Knowle, to Exmouth town hall and the new Honiton Heathpark HQ, and as part of the move, they had to find homes for various items that are unsuitable for its new building.

But a furore erupted just before Christmas when it was first revealed that council staff and members, but not the general public, were given the chance to bid on various items, and then when an email was leaked claiming a councillor managed to buy a large mahogany dining table and 20 chairs for £50 at the internal staff auction, instead of allowing it to be publicly auctioned for the best possible price.

A council spokesman had said that this leaked information was totally incorrect with the bid being for £400 and only including some of the chairs, and that the bid was withdrawn when Exmouth Town Council, who initially declined the offer of the table originally, changed their view just before Christmas and are now expected to take ownership of the table.

Cllr Ian Thomas, Leader of East Devon District Council, had previously said in a statement: “Our council relocation team has been working with professional auctioneers, Sidmouth Town Museum, charities and clearance specialists, to value and dispose of a wide range of items from our old East Devon District Council offices at The Knowle in Sidmouth.

“As part of this process, we offered our staff and elected members the chance to bid for items that may be of sentimental interest or practical use, but are of negligible commercial value.

“The value of items to be disposed were identified based on the view of experienced professionals. They included the large table from the Members area, which attracted little professional interest with one valuer estimate of just £50.

“All proceeds from this sale and those raised from other sales will go to the Chairman’s Civic Fund, to be donated to nominated charities.”

East Devon District Council’s scrutiny committee considered the disposal of the contents of the Knowle at their meeting last Thursday.

Richard Cohen, the Deputy Chief Executive, produced a report that outlined the process of disposal of items from the Knowle prior to handover to PegasusLife for demolition.

He said: “As part of that process and prior to the handover of the old office buildings to the developer, the council needs to clear the buildings. In total there are just over 2,600 separate items in the Knowle.

“The vast majority of these are office furniture: desks, chairs, cabinets etc of varying ages, condition and size. There are also a number of particular items of varying antiquity and value: these involve both furnishings and fixture and fittings. From a perspective of bulk disposal the estimated total weight of all these items is 45 metric tonnes.”

He outlined that Sidmouth Museum and Sidmouth Town Council were both interested in re-home various items, multiple local auction houses were invited in to look over items but that the majority of items were not of interest to them, and that for remaining items an opportunity was offered for council staff and members to bid for items whether for practical or aesthetic reasons.

He said: “These were items that had been attributed little or no sale value by the various professional auctioneers and ranged from standard office furniture items to cupboards, upholstered furnishings, tables, curtains for example. This element of the disposal process involves around seventy separate items and is likely to raise of the order of £2,000 for the Chairman’s chosen charities.”

Mr Cohen added that groups such as Action East Devon, Green Furniture Aid and Hospicare who are all either networked with voluntary groups or can sell furniture via charity outlets were asked whether they had an interest in some of the for the more generic items such desks, chairs and tables, but the response has been largely muted.

Town and parish councils will also be contacted asking them whether they have an interest in any items with the requirement that they transport said items away themselves, he added.

But councillors said that contrary to what Mr Cohen said, a full list of the items for disposal had not been circulated to them.

Scrutiny committee chairman Cllr Roger Giles said: “There has not been a list that we have seen so could someone produce a list that will be circulated very soon.” He also asked wat do town and parish councils know about the process, as the answer he had heard from them is nothing.

Cllr Cathy Gardner added: “Why was the full explanation of the process not circulated to members before we were given the chance to bid for items? The reason there was a furore around the subject as the offer of sale of items internally was offered in isolation and the lack of communication meant there was a lack of understanding of the wider process that this sat.”

Her recommendation, which the scrutiny committee backed unanimously, was that they remind the senior management team of the council to always consider the public perception of actions taken, particularly when it is involves public assets, and the disposal of public assets.


“Exmouth Fun Park regeneration row continues”

“The chairman of Exmouth’s regeneration committee has refused to comment on the clash of “opinions” between the owner of Exmouth Fun Park and the district council. …

… The Echo previously requested details about how Mr Wright rejected the offer in a Freedom of Information request (FOI) to the council, and a subsequent request for clarification after the response was only partially answered: the council responded: “The offer was not accepted and was then withdrawn by EDDC.”

Independent ward member for Exmouth, Cllr Megan Armstrong, added: “I am shocked by this revelation and surprised at the way the negotiations came to an end. It is very puzzling for the council to say Mr Wright did not accept the offer of a lease, when according to him, this was not the case.

“I am glad that a journalist has been able to follow-up these discrepancies, but find it concerning that the FOI request was initially not fully answered, and only by the persistence of the journalist, was clarity provided.”

She added: “Cllr Skinner doesn’t seem to be taking what Mr Wright has said seriously and seems to have dismissed his position.

“Members of the council shouldn’t have been informed that Mr Wright rejected an offer made if this wasn’t the case.”

Leader of the opposition, Independent Cllr Ben Ingham [this is incorrect: the leader of Independent opposition is now Councillor Cathy Gardner] added:

“This is a most unusual story: the Wright family has a long history of commitment to Exmouth, which includes their business interests over the last 40 years on the seafront. As Exmouth moves into the future, we are all looking forward to positive changes for the better. As we do this, we must be inclusive, listening to our local community, taking on board their hopes and aspirations and trying to deliver a wonderful place for us all to live.

“We should be deciding our future together. Instead we are told what’s going to happen. That stinks, and badly.”


EDDC recreates the “Economic Development Manager” post

Last occupied by Nigel Harrison, who was controversially closely involved (with EDDC’s money and many, many blessings) with the equally controversial East Devon Business Forum, run by disgraced ex-councillor Graham Brown. Mr Harrison slipped quietly away during the ensuing fall-out.

So why do we need a new one?

“To ensure that the district has sufficient dedicated economy staffing resource in its team to promote local economic growth and productivity, increase the development of employment land and business premises (including EDDC owned and operated units), respond to local business support requests, improve the District’s investment profile and enable East Devon to maximise its return on the shared investment opportunities that Greater Exeter, Innovation Exeter, Growth Deal and the future Enterprise Zone offer.”

Click to access 180117-joint-overview-scrutiny-agenda-combined.pdf

“The King is dead, long live the king” as they say!

Perhaps CEO Williams, Deputy CEO Cohen and Leader Diviani will have learned some lessons … then again, perhaps not.

Exmouth seafront- another sorry tale involving EDDC

“An embittered disagreement has arisen between the owner of an Exmouth seafront attraction and the district council over whether he rejected an offer to be involved in its £18m redevelopment of the area.

East Devon District Council is pressing ahead with its ambitious but controversial redevelopment of a 3.6 hectare swathe of Queen’s Drive which has already resulted in the closure and demolition of several long-standing businesses including DJ’s Diner, the Arnold Palmer/Jungle Fun site, and the model railway.

Chris Wright and his family have been running Exmouth Fun Park for four decades. After months of negotiations, Mr Wright said the council made an offer to him involving a lease to run a golf operation, but this was subsequently withdrawn within weeks, without warning.

However, the council claims that Mr Wright rejected the offer before they withdrew it. Members were instructed of his rejection last April in a document entitled ‘Communicating about Queen’s Drive’. The spokesperson added that the council would have liked to reach a settlement with Mr Wright, “but he would not agree terms”.

This claim is vehemently refuted by Mr Wright who is adamant that he did not reject the offer made in September 2015.

A “costly” court battle then ensued regarding his tenancy, in which the council won the right to terminate the Mr Wright’s lease, “devastating” the family “financially and emotionally”.

In a Freedom of Information request (FOI) to the council, and a subsequent request for clarification after the response was only partially answered, the Echo asked for details about how Mr Wright rejected the offer, including the date and the means of rejection, such as verbally or in writing.

The council responded: “The offer was not accepted and was then withdrawn by EDDC on the 12th October 2015 prior to the trial commencing on the 2nd November 2015…there was no acceptance from Mr Wright and accordingly on the basis of legal principles relating to offer and acceptance, an offer that has not been accepted can be withdrawn by the party which made the offer,” the response continued: “There had been extensive negotiation between the parties’ legal representatives during the period between the offer and the date of withdrawal…”

In response to the Echo’s probing into whether the council took an absence of a reply as non-acceptance of the offer, and whether any effort was made to chase up the offer made, it responded: “…the offer was not accepted. There had been extensive negotiation between the parties’ legal representatives during the period between the offer and the date of withdrawal…”

Mr Wright, said: “On September 7, 2015, the council offered us a new 25 year lease on a subject to contract basis. We were happy with the terms of the offer and on the advice of our solicitors, we arranged to meet with council officials to clarify the details of the lease.

“On October 5, we met with an official to discuss the details. After the meeting the council’s solicitor wrote to our solicitors to confirm that an “understanding” had been reached. Our solicitors responded to confirm that if the concerns we raised were addressed, there was no reason an agreement couldn’t be reached imminently, as an understanding had been reached on other issues.

But the draft leases were not provided as the council had indicated they would be, and we received a letter from the council three days later saying they were taking further professional advice.”

Mr Wright said that he heard nothing further until the council wrote to his solicitors on October 12, saying: “It has now become apparent that there can be no agreement reached between the parties to settle the issues…The Council is unable to accommodate your client in the development at this time and therefore the Council is, as of today’s date, withdrawing from any further negotiations”.

As a result, Mr Wright took the council to court because under the Landlord and Tenant Act, he had the right to ask the court to grant a new tenancy, or a tenancy of a part of the new development. However, the council was entitled to oppose the grant of new tenancies on the grounds they intended to develop the land and that it would not be reasonable to carry out the development with us remaining in occupation. The court ruled in the council’s favour.

Mr Wright, said: “We spent a significant amount of time negotiating the terms for a new lease of a part of the development to avoid court proceedings. We were committed to being a part of the future of the seafront.”

He added: “Having traded on Exmouth Seafront as a family for some 40 years, far from being against investment, for over a decade we sought to do just that and submitted countless proposals to be part of the future. As a family this has been emotionally and financially devastating.”

A council spokesperson, added: “The council made a number of attempts, both formal/informal and in writing/face to face, to reach agreement with Mr Wright. This included an offer made in August 2015 by the council to Mr Wright for him to have a new and longer lease directly with the council and to stay on part of the site rather than leave. This offer was increased formally in a letter dated September 7, 2015 and remained on the table while further negotiations continued.

“By October 5, 2015, when a further meeting took place with Mr Wright, there was still no confirmed acceptance by him. During this period of negotiation his financial compensation expectations continued to increase as the trial date approached.

“Clearly negotiation was not working and the council needed to address the imminent court hearing. The council would have liked to reach a settlement with Mr Wright, but he would not agree terms, so the matter went to court and the council’s offer was withdrawn.”

Exmouth Fun Park will continue operating until August 31, 2017.”


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.

Is Mr Cohen up to his job?

Richard Cohen has not had a good year (well, actually he has, as he remains Deputy CEO and Relocation Manager for EDDC).

He came under fire last week for saying (twice) that the DMC had “stymied” relocation plans – though actually if anyone stymied anything it was PegasusLife putting in a planning application that was unfit for purpose.

Just so show this wasn’t a one-off, let us remind ourselves of this is transcript of part of a speech by a well-known Sidmouth businessman with experience of property development, made at a Sid Vale Association Meeting at the Unitarian Church, Sidmouth, 9th December 2014.

The speech begins with a discussion of Cohen’s estimate of total relocation costs at about £10 million.

“The numbers are completely, hopelessly and scandalously wrong. They are useless, they are terrible and have to be challenged vigorously and strenuously. These numbers are rubbish. They don’t include the green travel plan, they don’t include compensation for the staff, they don’t include the cost of the move itself, they don’t include the costs of hubs the other towns and, most importantly, they don’t include the cost of officer time and members time that is involved in all of this.

The expert, Mr Steve Pratten from Davis Langdon, he is going to cost £1million or more on his own. It doesn’t include the legal costs in all this. I say to the District Council that I have estimated the real costs to be £20million. That figure was not disputed – Richard Cohen did not say it was exaggerated – he said he didn’t recognize the number. What that means is that I was bang on the money.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are trusting Richard Cohen to mastermind this whole process and we are assuming that he’s accurate in the mathematical calculations. This is the same man who measured the Knowle 40% smaller than it turned out to be! He got it wrong by 40%. Robin Fuller had to write a paper, he was rubbished in the press and it turned out that he was correct. The Knowle is 40% bigger than Richard Cohen thought it was.

This is the same man who was responsible for four attempts to compose the economic impact assessments rejected by his own planning committee. He can’t get simple mathematics right. This same man tells us that energy prices are going to go ahead for the next 20 years at 10% over inflation. He is alone in the entire world in thinking this. Nobody else believes that including your energy companies who will fix your energy costs for the next four years. That instantly takes £1.5million out of all the savings that are supposed to be made by moving, so he hasn’t even bothered to explore that possibility.

He is also the man who shifted the southern boundary of the Knowle to include the second tier of parkland without telling anybody and in contradiction to the specific instructions of the Development Management Committee. I was told this would not be investigated because the Inspector would look at it, which he would not do because it was not in his remit. So that has never been investigated by anybody at the Knowle.

He did it without managing to record that process; without managing to record any conversation with any individual, without writing a single email, or keeping a single note or sending any kind of correspondence to any third party. Because I made a freedom of information request, and there was nothing there.

He did it unilaterally, on his own, secretly, and he didn’t tell a single soul, and I only found out by accident.

This is not the kind of person I would trust to do these calculations. Now when he says it is going to cost £15.9million to refurbish the Knowle, I would tell him that that’s a load of bunkum. This relates to the entire building, which nobody advocates retaining. Why is anybody working in a bathroom when the Knowle is two and a half times the size of the building EDDC says it needs? How can that be possible? Mr Cohen in his calculations also asserts that there is nil chance, not 1% chance of local government reform in the next 20 years.”

“Relocation update: “We have been stymied twice”, officer reports to EDDC Cabinet”

As reported by Save our Sidmouth website.

Owl says: isn’t it time to draw horns in and manage – with creative ideas – with Exmouth and Sidmouth? Wouldn’t that be the most sensible choice now?

The Relocation lead officer, Richard Cohen, reporting last night to EDDC’s Cabinet meeting at Knowle, found himself roundly rebuked by Cllr Cathy Gardner (East Devon Alliance, EDA) for his subjective stance. Cllr Gardner was “shocked to hear Mr Cohen being scathing about the Development Management Committee (DMC) decision”, as these comments were wholly inappropriate for an officer’s report. She was certainly not the only one to think so.

Referring to the DMC’s refusal of the PegasusLife planning application for Knowle (6th December 2016) , “We have been stymied twice” was the turn of phrase chosen by Mr Cohen, who is also EDDC’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer. “You languish in old buildings’, he told councillors. He appeared to belittle the DMC’s decision, describing the refusal as “purely about planning”, “because of a listed curiosity”, and “arguments about Care Provision”.

The outcome of yesterday’s Cabinet meeting was an agreement to “decouple’ the twin aspirations to relocate to Exmouth and to Honiton. In a unanimous vote, it was decided to fast-track the refurbishment of Exmouth Town Hall (despite estimated costs having already increased by almost 70% , and borrowing being necessary) to provide a new ‘hub’ , accomodating 90 new desks for staff.

The mood was more muted about Honiton. Uncertainty about PegasusLife’s future intentions regarding Knowle, could continue, according to Richard Cohen, for around 6 months. In any case, delay in obtaining finance for newbuild offices at Heathpark is inevitable.

So the Council has turned its focus on how best to manage its office space at Knowle, acknowledging the site’s “potential capital appreciation”. The intention is to identify areas that “can be mothballed”, although Richard Cohen’s comment that Knowle’s “more modern buildings are in a more decrepit state ” than the former hotel, was somewhat surprising.

Next week’s Full Council Meeting (21 December, 6.30pm, Knowle) has the DMC report on its agenda. There are sure to be more, probing, questions to answer on this emerging relocation rejig.”

Relocation update: “We have been stymied twice”, officer reports to EDDC Cabinet

Officers of the council are neutral – aren’t they?

Update: it seems that Mr Cohen does not think that the word “stymied” indicated a lack of neutrality on his part. We leave that to readers to decide. Owl only adds that Mr Cohen was appointed to lead regeneration AND relocation – so it is hardly surprising that any interference with either of those roles is difficult for him to handle.

However, fortunately, help is at hand for him in the shape of EDDC’s own Constitution, where, on page 212, it states:

“39. Officers have a contractual and legal duty to be impartial. They must not allow their professional judgment and advice to be influenced by their own personal views”

Click to access constitution-july-2016-web-version.pdf

Owl – always happy to help and advise.

As expected last night’s EDDC Cabinet meeting unanimously rubber stamped the decision to raise another half million or so of taxpayers’ money to fund the refurbishment of Exmouth Town Hall as part of their Relocation Plan.

But, in an extraordinary outburst, Deputy CEO Richard Cohen, in charge of relocation, made a scathing attack on last week’s Development Management Committee’s decision to refuse planning permission for Pegasus Life’s application to develop 113 “assisted living” apartments on the Knowle.

He said the Council’s “commitment” to sell its HQ had been “stymied by a decision of the committee, (taken) purely about planning” (sic!) It hadn’t considered “the future of the Council, nor the independently proven savings” of relocation but made its decision “only because of heights (of buildings), a listed curiosity and arguments about care provision.”

So much for the myth that EDDC leaders, pursuing the relocation agenda, will allow the planning committee to serenely make its decisions on planning grounds alone, and won’t try to pressure it!

East Devon Alliance councillor Cathy Gardner was shocked, and said it was “inappropriate” for a council officer to criticise a planning committee in such a way.

But then Richard Cohen has form when it comes to arrogance and a cavalier attitude to convention. He handled the Council’s appeal in 2014 against the Information Commissioner’s call to publish documents about secret aspects of relocation. The Tribunal described the Council’s failure to cooperate properly and its economies with the truth as “discourteous and unhelpful”.