What thought went into the design of the debating chamber at the new EDDC HQ and its suitability for participation by the public?

tim todd made this Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was partially successful.

Dear East Devon District Council,

I make this request under the Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Regulations.

Request:
I wish to know what information EDDC holds about the processes which led to the design, construction and capacity of the new council chamber at the new Honiton HQ and in particular with regard to the provision of suitable and sufficient accommodation for members of the public to attend, observe and partake in the range of council meetings held in these premises.

I wish to be supplied with copies of all such information held, in all forms it be held be it reports, surveys, questionnaires, emails, consultation plans etc.

Please also include details on any restrictions on numbers of persons specified by any safety regulations and what alternative arrangements have been made , if any, to deal with meetings where public attendance is such that it exceeds the capacity of the provided accommodation .

Background:
Along with a fair number of members of the public, I attended the first council meeting under the new intake of councillors in May. Even arriving early I found that there was no room to accommodate me and a number of other members of the public, we had to use a less than satisfactory gallery with a restricted view of the participants. We also had to put up with broadcast information and missed out on all that was said when speakers forgot to use the microphones. Being quite separate from councillors and others, we were not readily able to have conversations with others on matters that may have been relevant and could have been raised by our representatives.

I gather from some in the small chamber downstairs, and from social media, that many were less than impressed and some felt the design and construction did not give due weight to public engagement in council matters in their public meetings, that the council has failed in its duty to provide adequate facilities or encourage participation.

Yours faithfully,

Tim Todd

East Devon District Council

Thank you for submitting a request for information. We will respond to your request as quickly as possible, within the 20 working day statutory deadline under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

For updates on this case, please quote your unique reference number 101000910342 .

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East Devon District Council

Good afternoon Mr Todd

We are in the process of pulling together the information you have
recently requested. I note from your request that you have asked for all
relevant emails referring to the subject matter. To locate every email
which refers in some way to the design of the chamber at Blackdown House
would be a huge task as, in many cases, this may form a small part of an
email encompassing many other areas and we consider that this work would
be likely to exceed reasonable time and cost limits as specified under the
Freedom of Information Act.

If we were to attempt to extract all relevant email correspondence, there
is likely to be a charge for this information and I am therefore
contacting you to check whether you do want us to include this in your
request and, if so, we will assess the fee that this work will incur.

In the meantime, the remaining information is being collated.

Regards

Mrs Kate Symington
Information and Complaints Officer
EDDC

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Dear East Devon District Council,
Thank you for your response - though I must express concern that it has taken this long for you to identify the issue you refer to. We are coming very close to the end of the outside period permitted under the Act for a reply to a request.
Perhaps you will give me an estimate of the cost but that should not delay you in meeting my suggestion below which could and should be actioned promptly .
Having no wish to incur unnecessary expense by the council may I suggest that you supply what information you have put together so far. I can then assess it and see if it adequately answers my concerns without the need for wider research and email examination.
Secondly I may subsequently suggest restricting the search of emails to certain officers and/or members/past members email accounts.- (I trust none have been deleted) It should be a relatively simple and non-costly matter for a skilled IT person to conduct a target word search of named individuals emails. I will follow this up once I have received the information you have gathered since 26th June and assessed it.
Meanwhile I look forward to reading the existing results of your research.
Thank you
Yours faithfully,

T Todd

FOI EDDC, East Devon District Council

10 Attachments

Mr Todd

 

Thank you for your request for information. You asked for information
regarding the design of the chamber at Blackdown House and also relating
to capacity and safety regulations. We have corresponded in relation to
the provision of emails and the length of time it would take to review
these and cost implications. In light of your reply, please find our
response to your FOI below, with relevant documentation attached.

 

The design process for Blackdown House was led by the council’s project
executive group (including senior officers and councillors and the
relocation project manager) with professional architectural advice and
taking into account statutory requirements such as fire safety
regulations.

Relevant extracts from work reports at varying stages of the design
process are attached as follows:

Stage 1 report, stage 2 report, stage 3 report and stage 4 report. Please
note that the relevant information has been extracted from the wider
documents for ease of reference.

Confirmation of the approval for the above workstages is attached in the
form of correspondence with the architect and these documents are as
follows:

EDDC formal letter to Aecom re Honiton Stage 3 approval

AECOM letter – EDDC stage 4

 

Copies of the chamber furniture layouts are attached as follows:

The chamber layout dated 1^st May 2018

The chamber layout dated 22^nd May 2018

 

The Fire Strategy for the building identifies a maximum occupancy level of
up to 180 persons for the chamber, although this is not based on the
layout shown in the strategy (which is the furniture layout dated 22^nd
May 2018). Numbers are currently arranged around 138 seats: 60 Members, 7
Officers, 2 Press and a capacity for up to 69 public seating.   There is
also overflow availability in the gallery above the Chamber which has
video and audio links to the chamber. The fire strategy does not
separately identify capacity for the gallery as, during the working day,
the area will be used by staff.

 

You will also find references throughout the project documentation to the
chamber which, as it has already been published, can be found here -
[1]https://eastdevon.gov.uk/access-to-infor....

 

The first full council meeting was very well attended both by elected
members and interested members of the public.  Subsequent regular use of
the chamber has included day time and evening council meetings including
ones of particular public interest such as Development Management
Committee.  The Chamber has accommodated numerous external events as well
as the successful conduct of District, Parish and European elections
during May this year.

 

I hope this information is helpful but, if you feel dissatisfied with the
way we have responded to your request, you have the right to request an
internal review by contacting our Monitoring Officer, Mr Henry Gordon
Lennox, at [2][email address]

 

You may also approach the Information Commissioner for advice at
[3]www.ico.org.uk

 

 

 

Mrs Kate Symington

Information and Complaints Officer

East Devon District Council

 

01395 517417

[4]www.eastdevon.gov.uk

 

Working days Monday – Thursday

 

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