Council makes 4th bid to move its offices
Plans to sell a council headquarters have been unveiled for the fourth time after a series of embarrassing blunders delayed the project by four months.
East Devon District Council first submitted an application to its own planning committee in September to abandon its Sidmouth offices and convert the surrounding parkland into housing and a care home.
The authority was branded a "farce" last month by critics who pointed out the errors in counting staff and calculating the number of jobs lost under the proposed move to Honiton.
Officials now say the scheme would create a net loss over a decade of 71 jobs in Sidmouth, a figure opponents claim doubles the unemployment in the seaside town.
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Richard Thurlow, spokesman for the campaign group Save Our Sidmouth, accepted the revised Economic Impact Assessment but said the entire project remained "unjustified".
"Due to the council's incompetence we are now on the fourth issue," he added. "The job losses should be looked at in context of the local economy where unemployment is around 60 or 70 – in addition to the loss of jobs, the scheme promotes commuting against the local plan and destroys parkland."
Initial estimates that a move from the council's historic home would add three jobs, were hastily withdrawn and changed to a loss of 33.
A second attempt was then withdrawn after the calculated number of workers who would be forced to make a 20-mile round trip to new offices in Honiton was revised upwards from 80 to more than 100.
The latest plans include surveys of the local bat population and a market assessment report and valuation.
The council said no decision has yet been taken, adding that the move will only take place if it is "self-funding".
It says the plans are in response to "spiralling" costs at the Knowle where repairs alone are estimated to cost more than £1million.
The deputy chief executive has admitted previous mistakes had been "embarrassing" but said the revisions showed a "willingness to listen to those scrutinising our processes from outside".
Andrew Moulding, deputy leader of the council, said the new documents had been "prepared with great care".
"We have responded to feedback from our planners and members of the public who challenged certain aspects of the draft and are making sure we have a robust, well evidenced document to consider," he added.
"There is unquestionably a negative but relatively limited impact on Sidmouth's economy, and this information must be balanced with the potential benefits of moving.
"With Knowle in its current state doing nothing is not an option because it places a huge burden on all East Devon taxpayers, even for just the essential repairs."