East Devon District Council's new headquarters - Blackdown House in Honiton

Blackdown House - efficient, fit for purpose and on budget

East Devon District Council is relocating to its new headquarters at Blackdown House on the outskirts of Honiton and will be open for business at 8.30am on Monday February 11, 2019.

In a phased approach taking place over three weeks, staff are leaving the council’s old offices at Knowle, Sidmouth. The Sidmouth offices will cease operations and close down at 5pm on Friday February 8.

Together with continuing investment to improve the council’s on-line capability, this move will mean that the council will have a presence in East Devon’s largest town,Exmouth, and it’s most central, Honiton. - making customer access much easier than before.

Construction work at Blackdown House started on 24 July 2017 and the completed building was handed over to the council earlier this month. The building is less than half the floor space of Knowle and space is used much more efficiently to reflect the way the council works.  This means a fully accessible building, no wasted space, shared desks, open working environments, and suitably sized meeting rooms. Council meetings will be held in a new council chamber with vastly improved audio/visual technology for councillors and the public.

Blackdown House is built in a well tested, modern manner with structural masonry walls, precast floors and stairs, timber trussed and clad roof. The windows and doors are generally double-glazed aluminium.

The council estimates that energy bills will be half the previous amounts and, as the roof has photo voltaic panels, green electricity will be generated and used, with the surplus being fed back into the grid.  There are two electric car charging points in the car park and the cabling to install many more as demand rises.

The new address is: East Devon District Council, Blackdown House, Border Road, Heathpark Industrial Estate, Honiton EX14 1EJ. The main telephone number remains the same for the time being and is 01395 516551. 

Key Facts

•            A total of 97,000 bricks were used on the project

•            Around 600 people worked on site

•            59 Subcontractors – 60% are based within 50 miles of Honiton

•            Designed and constructed to achieve BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method), Very Good accreditation

•            The building height is approximately 17 metres

•            Total floor area is 2,760 m2

•            3,000 metric tonnes of old concrete slabs on the former site were crushed to make recycled aggregate avoiding 375 lorry journeys

•            216 shared desks including reception desk and booths

•            Council chamber for 60 Members and 69 public seats with a further 40+ seats available in the second floor gallery overlooking the chamber

•            Hearing loops in reception and meeting rooms, with an infra-red hearing loop in the council chamber

•            Renewable energy generation with 112 Photo Voltaic panels on the south facing roof slope with an anticipated yield of 32,000 kWh pa

•            130 car parking spaces including seven for people with disabilities

•            Two electric vehicle charging points with ducts incorporated for future expansion

•            18 motorcycle parking spaces

•            Secure undercover cycle racks with CCTV coverage for 30 cycles

 

Background

History: East Devon District Council has been working from Knowle since 1974. The building is a former Victorian hotel with a mix of late 70s and early 80s office extensions. The building has become increasingly inefficient for modern use and expensive to heat and maintain.  The Sidmouth site has been agreed to be sold to PegasusLife, a company that specialises in building high quality retirement community developments.  The extensive remaining parklands have been offered by the council to Sidmouth Town Council with a maintenance dowry. East Devon District Council is reinvesting the sale monies into the relocation and build costs at Honiton and Exmouth.

The way we work: Blackdown House’s office space is designed to reflect the way the council works. The WorkSmart approach means our accommodation needs are reduced and desks are shared. Work takes place across the district at the most suitable location respecting the needs of the task, the customer, the team and the individual.

The Sidmouth offices, as well as being outdated and expensive to run, are too large. We need much less space and an old Victorian hotel with extensions was no longer fit for purpose nor affordable.

Open working and flexible space will enable our staff to operate and collaborate in ways that better connect and improve our services.

The twin site approach and design of our buildings means we have a flexible approach to the future so that we can best serve the district.

Transforming to save money: Central government grant has reduced year-on-year.  Ten years ago, East Devon received £7.8m in central government grant and that figure is now zero. We have to generate the rest in other ways as well as looking for savings and efficiencies so that we can continue to protect frontline services.  Moving out of the old offices in Sidmouth is part of our Transformation Strategy and significantly reduces our overheads.

Staying in Sidmouth was not an option.  The basic maintenance bill to bring the Knowle offices into good repair would have been £4.5m and we would still have been faced with much higher energy bills than we needed to pay, even after replacing the boilers, rewiring, a new roof and the rest.

Customer Service: Exmouth, our biggest town, now has its own East Devon District Council offices that provide key front line services – such as housing and benefits - as well as being a multi-service building with the town council and registrar as tenants.

Our new Honiton HQ at Blackdown House, will provide face-to-face services to our residents and both buildings have a bright and welcoming reception area to meet customers and clients.  There are self-service computer facilities and interview spaces as well that are vastly superior to what we were able to offer at Sidmouth. 

Honiton as a site for our new HQ is much more central to East Devon than Sidmouth is. While we are working to encourage people to use our on-line services much more, if they want to visit our offices or attend council meetings then Honiton is a central location and the facilities of the building are very accessible.

Blackdown House: The design, build, fit out and relocation cost is £8.7m, which will be recovered through the sale monies for our Sidmouth site and savings in running costs into the future.  From Day 1, we will be saving money on our annual expenditure and repaying borrowing. 

The budget includes new equipment and furniture for the new offices.  We are moving over IT equipment that is modern enough to work in the new building but we are disposing of office furniture and other items.  We have desks, cupboards and chairs of all ages, condition, shapes and sizes that don’t work in the new office design. For example, there are still many oversized and L-shaped desks from the old days when computer screens had cathode ray tubes before the days of modern slim line LED screens.

Independent Evaluation: When it came to the big decision to sell the Knowle site and begin the build of new premises, the council commissioned an independent assessment by Grant Thornton to test the numbers in terms of project cost and savings underpinning the case for relocation.  Their work has validated the case to move.  The cost of remaining in Sidmouth in terms of essential maintenance would have been £4.5m and relocating to this new HQ will generate savings of £1.4m over 20 years.

East Devon District Council’s Leader, Cllr Ian Thomas, said:

I am delighted that East Devon District Council has a 21st century cost effective and energy efficient headquarters that will pay for itself within 20 years. From Day 1, we will be saving money in operating costs which has got to be good news for our Council Tax payers.