EAST Devon District Council’s ambitious and controversial relocation bid from Sidmouth to SkyPark could be hindered by an application for Village Green Status for the parkland it wants to sell-off.
Cabinet members are due to back the next step in the relocation process at their meeting this week on Wednesday, June 4, including appointing top estate agents, Savills to market the site of its headquarters at Knowle and its Manstone depot.
The sale of these sites for redevelopment are integral to the council’s ability to fund its planned relocation to SkyPark, a move backed by cabinet members in February.
Their support was subject to further research into the viability of the council’s office relocation – in particular the outcome of an exercise to find out the value that developers are prepared to put on Knowle and Manstone.
The plan was for the marketing of Knowle and Manstone to be completed in July, however experts have advised the council to hold-off until there is clarity surrounding the status of the village green application.
In December 2012, members of the Knowle Residents Association applied to Devon County Council for the Knowle parkland to be granted Village Green Status.
A Government inspector recently held an application hearing and his report is due in the next few weeks.
The outcome could be rejection, approval or the call for a more extensive examination on the application.
“If the parkland is granted Village Green Status it would make it very difficult for building to be permitted there,” affirmed association member Mike Temple.
“We just want to save this precious and outstanding parkland which is part of our heritage.
“We were forced into pursuing the application because we feel that public opinion is being ignored.”
Critics of the council’s relocation bid including both residents and councillors, have argued with the premise that a move from Sidmouth will be as cost effective as council officials have stated.
Concerns have also been expressed at the viability of locating the council’s headquarters on the fringe of the district.
Capital receipts from the sale of parts of Knowle, Manstone and the council’s site at Heathpark in Honiton, will be invested in the new headquarters.
Heathpark was marketed for supermarket development last year and exchange of conditional contracts for this multi-million pound sale is imminent.
Redevelopment of Heathpark would involve the vacating of the East Devon Business Centre which is located there. The council has appointed specialist consultants Carter Jonas, to investigate how the council can support the future needs of th businesses and their findings and recommendations are expected by September.
Just under £502,000 has been approved for the relocation project and cabinet is this week expected to approve a further £203,000 for 2014/15 – bringing the total pre-contract cost to just over £705,000.
This figure is split between project management staffing costs and survey, valuation, legal, marketing fees.
There is also a “significant and prudent” element of contingency factored in.
Council leader, Councillor Paul Diviani, added: “The squeeze on public expenditure is set to continue and if we carry on as we are, the council will be faced with a budget deficit of £2.8m by 2020.
“Remaining at Knowle keeps us tied to old and inefficient buildings and fails to make best use of this valuable council owned asset.
“At present, the council is struggling to maintain an oversized, inefficient and low-value headquarters on a site that has significant capital value as well as continued amenity value.
“Relocation is central to our plans to transform the council into an organisation that meets the needs of our residents and businesses in an accessible, cost effective and joined up way.”