Critics say the “biggest decision ever facing East Devon District Council” has been “nodded” through.
Councillors at Wednesday’s full council meeting backed the cabinet’s recommendation that the local authority press ahead with its plans to relocate its headquarters from Sidmouth to SkyPark near Exeter.
Earlier this month cabinet members approved the recommendation for the move to a site, excluding a building, that would cost the council £986,000, to be covered by the sale of assets including its current “oversized and inefficient” offices at Knowle, Sidmouth.
Earlier in the meeting, councillors rejected a motion that was approved at January’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee, that an independent survey on the condition of the council’s existing office buildings be undertaken and the decision on the relocation to SkyPark be deferred until its completion.
Since the decision to relocate was first mooted by the council a couple of years ago, a budget of £410,000 has been made available for relocation assessments and feasibility reports – but no assessment on the state of the buildings has been commissioned.
Claire Wright, who is the ward member for Ottery St Mary, said that although a debate on the relocation occurred at the point at which the survey motion arose, there was no further discussion when the decision to move to SkyPark was ratified.
She said this meant the “specifics” that surrounded the move, such as the purchase of the land at almost £1m, and the immediate marketing of its Knowle offices, lacked discussion.
However deputy leader of the council, Councillor Andrew Moulding said there had been a “lengthy” debate surrounding the logistics of the move for over an hour at the point of Cllr Wright’s motion of the independent survey arose.
“Everyone was waiting for another discussion,” Cllr Wright said. “But instead the decision was nodded through under the Cabinet’s recommendation, without anyone even explaining it properly.”
Tony Green, Save Our Sidmouth (SOS) and East Devon Alliance member also said there was a lack of debate about the move to SkyPark.
“It was appalling that such a crucial decision on probably one of the most important issues in a generation should have been slipped through.
“Numerous members of the public in public question time had pointed out how reckless they thought the move was.
“It’s such a gamble, and it goes against all the criteria East Devon set out for moving in the first place for example, to be more accessible.
“SOS has long called for the existing modern buildings at Knowle to be updated instead.
“The decision to move to SkyPark beggars belief.”
Cllr Moulding, added: “There was a full discussion on various aspects of the move such as cost implications and the option of drop-in centres is the towns and whether the move should happen.
“When it then came to the Cabinet minutes, because of the previous lengthy debate, these were nodded through as no one raised any points.”
In November cabinet shortlisted four out of 15 possible locations for new office accommodation: Cranbrook town centre, Skypark, two sites on Heathpark in Honiton and Clyst House, Winslade Park.
Council officers will now enter a further evaluation and negotiation phase with the preferred option of SkyPark.
A report outlining whether the council should commit funding to the new headquarters is expected to be presented to Cabinet and full council in July.