From our correspondent “Fly Me”

26 Jul

A personal view of an attendee at the “facilitated discussion” on EDDC’s move from Knowle, held earlier this week:

To the unlikely surrounds of the FlyBe Training centre where EDDC had summoned about 25 assorted parish councillors, business group reps, and members of the East Devon Alliance, Save Our Sidmouth and the Knowle Residents.

We were there for a “facilitated” discussion on the move out of EDDC’s Knowle HQ to … we’re not sure where. Could it be Honiton, maybe Cranbrook? Skypark? Or even, in a wild card move from Exeter City Council’s Karime Hassan, a shared facility with Exeter City Council and Teignbridge. Richard Cohen, main advocate for the sale of the Knowle, dismissed this one “Karime just wants us to help pay for his bus depot”.

On the basis that the dozen EDDC employees were there to remind us that the move is a done deal, the other 25 of us threw in as many helpful ideas as possible. Parking, public transport accessibility, making sure they  build something which still had value if district councils were abolished. Ideas for council chambers, questions on air conditioning, the carbon footprint, what would happen to Streetscene. It was all quite sensible.

The two main attractions were Richard Cohen and Paul Diviani. Cohen put in a sturdy performance with his “moving forwards” and his “future-proofing”, our old friend “outcomes” of course, and a PowerPoint of “What, Why and How” etc. Nobody could really answer the question, who is this move mainly for (i.e., who are the most important  “stakeholders”). Is it the , the council tax payers, the employees, or the good of the economy? Perhaps this is unkind, but the arguments for the council tax payer were somewhere between iffy and unproven, for the general economy, nil, but for the employees, who all seemed shiny, happy people about leaving the Knowle, it’s a winner.

Paul Diviani, kitted out for Sandy Lane, Barbados in a room full of sober dressers, put in a more uneven performance, but it had some chutzpah. He cited as his great past success the setting up of the East Devon Business Forum (we assumed he was trying to get a rise with this one), and then proclaimed the triumph in our neighbour West Dorset, whose new HQ he told us had come in £1 million under budget!

He was less confident when asked where the democratic mandate for this move came from, the biggest decision in the district council’s history. Why was it not in the Conservative manifesto at the 2011 elections?

He had one crack at this, saying that when he’d joined the council in 1999 the move was in the ether and had been deferred for all sorts of reasons. When he became leader he was determined to drive it on. He obviously wasn’t happy with that answer, so he came back an hour later with another one – that politicians were elected and delegated to make decisions etc. He wasn’t elected as a Conservative to be seen wasting tax payers money, and the Knowle was doing that.

Not really an answer to why his party’s A3, full colour, double-sided manifesto did not include in its 6 point “Promise to East Devon” that it would up-sticks, cause huge upset in Sidmouth by at first threatening to build on its entire parkland, rush a vote through at the same time as slipping some more industrial land into the Local Plan, and belatedly announce that £4.8 million would be needed to be borrowed for what was previously said to be self-financing.

Good news? This was jaw-jaw, not war-war. Bad news? Not sure how Paul Diviani or Richard Cohen would score in one of the amazing FlyBe Flight Simulation Modules we saw, but as things stand we’re on a flight to who knows where – and the controls are in the hands of the cabin crew.

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