Cranbrook is a possibility for EDDC relocation
PUBLISHED: 16:14 08 November 2013 | UPDATED: 16:14 08 November 2013
Town is one of five picked out of 15-area shortlist
Cranbrook is one of the five potential sites for East Devon District Council (EDDC) after it leaves Sidmouth, it has been revealed.
A long list of 15 was narrowed down to Cranbrook town centre, the developing Skypark, Winslade Park, the authority’s property at Heathpark, or another site at the same location still being negotiated.
That shortlist is set to be debated by cabinet and full council this month – and EDDC could be out of Knowle and into its new HQ as early as July 2015.
The council assessed the situation and concluded that, in the long term, it is cheaper to find new premises than to stay where they are.
Deputy chief executive Richard Cohen was tasked in July with finding potential future sites, so a team set out contacting agents and land owners.
Alternative sites in Exeter Airport, Exmouth and Farringdon were disregarded because of factors such as cost and accessibility.
Most of the sites were clustered around the centre of the district and to the western end, where there are business park developments, rather than coastal areas.
Mr Cohen insists that all options are equally viable at this stage, so are listed in no particular order.
EDDC has been offered a prominent position on Cranbrook’s high street, which is an expensive location but could double up as a town hall facility or a library.
Mr Cohen said it would be seen as a vote of confidence in the new town, which is set to have a rail link in 2015.
He added that there are local amenities and the site would be attractive for a future resale.
If the site at Honiton was to be selected, the relocation would be funded through the sale of Knowle, Manstone Depot, and potentially the East Devon Business Centre at Heathpark in Honiton.
EDDC has had eight bids for the centre but Mr Cohen said a replacement building would be built for the users before a new HQ was built and they would not be left ‘homeless’.
The Heathpark site may also be the site of the new HQ, or there could be another option at the business park that will be revealed if it becomes ‘a serious contender’.
Mr Cohen said the benefits of moving to Honiton are its central location in the district, the availability of parking and its accessibility via public transport and the A30.
The council could be a ‘pioneer’ if it becomes one of the first to move into Devon County Council’s new Skypark, at the western end of the district.
It is again at the western end of the district but there are good road links and it is in reasonable reach of Cranbrook for when the train station is completed.
Clyst House, in Winslade Park, was an ‘unexpected’ alternative, as it would not require the building of a new premises.
But it is a third bigger than the council wants as it looks to downsize from Knowle, so the extra space would have to be let out to get the desired cost savings, potentially by the East Devon Business Centre.
It has been offered at a ‘very good price’ and the refurbishment cost would ‘not be too high’.
Mr Cohen said being in use already means it is a ‘known entity’, which minimises some of the risks of a new-build.
The site has 237 parking spaces and access via the A3052, and is close to the M5.
If Clyst House is selected then EDDC could relocate by July 2015, but it could be delayed by a year if a new HQ has to be built.
If the council moves to a more remote location, it will look to deliver more of a physical presence in other towns, but in a survey it has found that half of respondents would prefer to communicate by letter, phone or email.
The next step is site viewings for members of the cabinet and leaders of various political parties.
They will then be discussed by the cabinet and full council.
“I would like to move forward as fast as possible. The next decision is choosing one of the five sites,” said Mr Cohen.
“We are being as up front with as much information as we can.”
He added that any information not disclosed was to protect the council’s negotiating position and the public purse.
Residents will not have a say on which of the five sites is selected, but will be involved in the consultation on any planning application.
Every key decision goes through cabinet and then full council, and has been scrutinised by independent auditors.