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HONITON: Council set to scrap Skypark move

Tuesday, 02 December 2014


EAST Devon District Council is set to scrap its proposed relocation to SkyPark and instead switch to Honiton, offering a welcome boost to the town’s economy and an “early Christmas present” for business leaders.
A final decision will not be made until mid-December, but officers are now recommending that councillors reverse the unpopular SkyPark plan and split smaller headquarters between sites in Honiton and Exmouth.
A surprise statement announcing the change of plan, which was put down to “changing market conditions”, was issued by EDDC last week.
It explains that a major supermarket did make a bid to develop the council-owned Heathpark site in Honiton, but it later reduced the offer. The money would have been used to fund the relocation to Skypark, but EDDC now says the supermarket deal is “no longer attractive”.
The statement read: “Marketing of Heathpark began last year and the highest value commercial interest came from a supermarket operator.
“The offer price negotiated at that time was attractive as part of the funding package to relocate to SkyPark, but the supermarket reduced its offer in line with a new business sector model. The reduced offer makes a sale of the site no longer attractive.”
New recommendations, to be discussed by councillors this week, propose instead to retain the Heathpark site and potentially combine the East Devon Business Centre into new headquarters in Honiton.
Under the proposals, existing tenants of the business centre, who had been preparing for relocation, will be able to remain in the town.
The announcement was welcomed by senior councillors and business leaders, who have long argued that Honiton’s central location within the district makes it a preferable choice for relocation.
Honiton’s mayor and district council representative, Councillor Peter Halse, who has been vocal in his criticism of the SkyPark plans, said Honiton was the “sensible” option.
He said: “The town council and many residents will be delighted that Honiton’s central location and vibrant economy has been recognised by the district council, which will make a decision before the year’s end.
“This proposal seems much more sensible than the original suggestion of a big headquarters near Exeter.
“We shall be delighted to cooperate with EDDC and offer them any advice they might require.”
Councillor Halse also said that reducing the size of council premises was a “twenty-first century” move.
He added: “We do not need monster offices with people behind desks. Thankfully the council has realised that the ideas it was working on are hopelessly out of date.”
Councillor Mike Allen, another of Honiton’s district council representatives, and EDDC’s business champion, added: “I am sure I speak for the district councillors in Honiton when I say that we have encouraged this opinion for some time and continue to support Honiton's development for the good of the local area.”
Along with new premises in Honiton, officers are also recommending that existing space at Exmouth Town Hall, recently vacated by Devon County Council, be utilised.
The new plans would be funded by capital receipts and “prudent” borrowing, with a greater reliance on mobile and online working.
The statement added: “Sites in two of East Devon’s major towns provide an ideal opportunity for the council to respond to the demand for various services.
“It is clear there is a need to increase service provision for housing benefits, council tax, housing advice and register and debt advice in both Exmouth and Honiton, and there would be significant demand-led presences in Sidmouth and Axminster.
“In the longer term, the council needs to consider the shape of local government. A combined Honiton and Exmouth office base offers a more flexible approach to our accommodation requirements involving new and modernised offices in two locations.
“In a world of increasing cooperation between local authorities, a smaller headquarters and an accessible presence around the district offers a better proposition for our customers.”
The change of plan was also welcomed by Honiton’s business leaders, who hope the relocation can provide a much-needed boost to the local economy.
Colin Wright, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, said: “A move to Honiton would bring added revenue to the town as a whole and increase spending in the town centre, which in turn will benefit shop owners, the market and shoppers alike.
“Working together, the people of Honiton can achieve even more success, and should EDDC approve the move to our town, we would welcome them with open arms.
“They have already given us a large concessionary benefit for our car parks for December and by working with them I am sure we can improve the town in other ways.”
He added: “Should the outcome of the meeting on December 17th be positive, it could possibly be the best Christmas present Honiton has ever had. But we must not rest on our laurels.
“By all the businesses, shops and the people of Honiton pulling together, we really can make our town the flagship of East Devon.”
Pressure group the East Devon Alliance criticised the council for its proposed U-turn on the relocation, accusing the leadership of “panic” planning over the switch.
A spokesperson said: “All efforts now are towards saying what a sensible and brilliant idea the EDDC upper echelons have come up with for Exmouth and Honiton presence.
“So why did they waste hundreds of thousands of pounds of our money on SkyPark?”
EDDC’s cabinet will discuss the recommendations at a meeting next week, before the plans are put to full council on December 17th.


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