Analysis  ⁄  Planning & place

Echoes of Exeter's Roman past reveal risks to city's future vision

The unexpected discovery of Roman remains on Exeter's bus station redevelopment site suggests significant risks may also exist for the adjacent Citypoint regeneration scheme.

Roman exeter   St sidwell's point   Citypoint   Bus station redevelopment  

Modern Exeter is built on the important Roman military settlement of Isca, where the 5,000-strong Second Augustan Legion were garrisoned for over twenty years. The civilian city developed around the fortress.

Archaeological discoveries of Roman remains have formed a staple of Exeter’s recent history, including a major survey of Cathedral Close in the 1970s and the discovery of a Roman military supply base between Topsham and Exeter city centre in 2015.

So it was not a great surprise to find yet more Roman remains during September 2019 construction work for the new leisure complex on the city’s bus station site.

In a statement Exeter City Council joined in the delight of their specialist consultants, Cotswold Archaeology who also issued a news item on the find. But there is more to the story than this.

Exeter bus station redevelopment site on which Roman remains were found Exeter bus station redevelopment site on which Roman remains were found

According to the council’s statement the find was “very important and completely unexpected”. The reports submitted as part of the outline planning application for the redevelopment in 2016 noted that there had been several surveys on the site in recent years, and concluded that this work “has identified no surviving remains of major significance on the site, and as a result there are no constraints in this respect on the principle or layout of the proposed development”.

However version 18 of the project risk register dated 28 November 2017 – the only version available to Exeter Observer - identifies as risk 20 the possibility of finding buried structures on the site during construction. The possible impacts, categorised as high, are identified as delay and additional costs.

The entry indicates that a site survey was carried out and issued, as a mitigation measure. The council subsequently stated that this survey did not identify the remains discovered in 2019 because it was “a simple site survey and did not excavate this far down or in this specific location”.

Exeter City Council responded to questions from Exeter Observer about the implications of the find for bus station redevelopment costs by stating that “no significant extra costs” were incurred; it declined to elaborate on the meaning of “significant”.

At a full council meeting on 15 October 2019, council leader Phil Bialyk said that “the budget for the bus station and leisure complex included sums for anticipated archaeological works and the build plan included assumptions for archaeological works. At present there are no concerns regarding the critical path or the budget.”

Again, he was not specific about the additional cost.

Bampfylde Street car park beside the bus station redevelopment site, location of part of proposed Citypoint regeneration scheme Bampfylde Street car park beside the bus station redevelopment site, location of part of proposed Citypoint regeneration scheme

However, former Green Party councillor Chris Musgrave recalls a degree of complacency at the civic centre about the risks of the work being disrupted by archaeological finds. He told us that when he was a councillor he attended a briefing about the revised plans for the bus station development.

“The bids from developers came in much higher than the budget and many opposition councillors, myself included, wanted reassurance that costs were not going to continue to spiral.

“Members were briefed by the then portfolio holder Phil Bialyk and key officers about how the new contract would be structured. Specifically, how costs would be kept down.

“There was a range of cost-cutting measures but one in particular stood out. The council was proposing to sign a contract that had no contingency for the discovery of archaeologically significant remains.

“Given Exeter’s history, I found this strange and asked what a worst-case scenario would cost ratepayers if anything of archaeological significance was found. Officers said that in a worst-case scenario the council would be liable for extra costs of ‘up to £5 million’.

“Councillors were reassured, though, that this would not happen. The council was ‘confident’ the dig wouldn’t find anything significant under the bus station”.

The council did not respond to an invitation to comment on Mr Musgrave’s statement.


Bampfylde Street car park beside the bus station redevelopment site, location of part of proposed Citypoint regeneration scheme Bampfylde Street car park beside the bus station redevelopment site, location of part of proposed Citypoint regeneration scheme

Following a request under the Freedom of Information Act, the council recently revealed that the cost of the disruption caused by the find was £56,608 (made up of three weeks overall delay, additional excavation, stockpiling and disposal of soil and plant hire) plus £8,290 for archaeological consultancy for the excavations.

£65,000 may not seem “significant” to the council, but it would cover the cost of employing a middle manager for a year or, indeed, the annual running costs of the thirteen public toilets closed last year on the grounds the city could no longer afford them.

The council initially refused to say whether there was a clause in the contract with Kier, the main contractor, covering a contingency sum in the event of significant disruption from archaeological work, citing commercial confidentiality, but subsequently had a welcome change of mind and confirmed that no such clause existed.

This is consistent with what Chris Musgrave was previously told at the councillors’ briefing.

Citypoint regeneration scheme drawing

Citypoint regeneration scheme

This time the council was lucky in the sense that the unexpected costs of archaeological work could be contained. However it may not be the end of the matter.

In the January 2020 edition of the Devon Archaeological Society’s newsletter the city council’s heritage officer, Andrew Pye, wrote that the bus station site discoveries “belong to a new, and completely unknown, Roman military site”.

He posits that there is much more to be discovered under the remainder of the site, under what was Bampfylde Street car park, and under Sidwell Street. The council announced in November 2018 that it hopes to see a major redevelopment of this area, which it later designated Citypoint.

If the council manages to prise open this development opportunity, it cannot say it has not been warned about what lurks beneath.


 is contributing editor of Exeter Observer and a member of its publisher Exeter Observer Ltd.

 


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Exeter City Council public toilet closure notice

Analysis  ⁄  Democracy & governance

Caught short - balancing the books in a hurry

Exeter City Council has unapologetically confirmed its decision to close 13 public toilets as a money-saving measure with full knowledge of its expected effect on residents and visitors. Can we expect other spending cuts to be handled the same way?

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Preston Street Union present SERGE/SURGE at Cricklepit Mill

Review  ⁄  Arts & culture

Preston Street Union rolls out the red carpet

The Exeter-based artists explore migration driven by the city's historic wool trade in new work commissioned by RAMM.

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Exeter Youth Strike 4 Climate protestors with banner

Comment  ⁄  Climate & environment

Exeter Youth Strike 4 Climate - the floodgates are open

Exeter is one of the smallest cities in Britain, yet it has produced some of the country's biggest youth strikes. Climate activist Sophie Sleeman recounts the story so far and explains what it means to the young people who are creating a global wave of change.

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Photo of The Jambassadors by Gabe Riedlinger

Preview  ⁄  Arts & culture

Jambassadors feature in pop-up Jazz Toast at Barnfield Theatre

Musical director Roz Harding invites us to join an Exeter College Music Academy student collective in a one-night-only experimental exploration of in-the-moment improvisation.

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Extreme Imagination - inside the mind's eye exhibition at Exeter RAMM

Review  ⁄  Arts & culture

Extreme Imagination - Inside the Mind's Eye

University of Exeter research fellow Dr Matthew MacKisack guides us through a RAMM exhibition that explores works by artists, writers and makers with widely varying visual imaginations.

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Molly Scott Cato at the European Parliament

Profile  ⁄  Democracy & governance

Is EU membership essential to our ability to deal with the climate emergency?

Molly Scott Cato, Green Party MEP for the South West, visited Exeter during her re-election campaign to explain why the EU and its Green Group is leading the way on a wide range of progressive policies.

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Front elevations of proposed development at Mount Radford Lawn

Analysis  ⁄  Planning & place

Mount Radford Lawn development proposals conflict with St Leonards community vision

Exeter Deaf Academy hopes to sell a school playing field to developers who plan to build luxury homes. Local residents have other ideas about how best to use the land. A dispute is looming over an historic green space driven by prospective profit from planning gain.

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Exeter College students in A Midsummer Night's Dream at Barnfield Theatre

Review  ⁄  Arts & culture

Playing with gender expectations at Barnfield Theatre

An Exeter College interpretation of A Midsummer Night's Dream transforms it into an enchanting contemporary gender-adapted tale.

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Rainbow Trail LGBTQIA+ exhibition queers RAMM for Exeter Pride 2019

Preview  ⁄  Arts & culture

Rainbow Trail LGBTQIA+ exhibition queers RAMM for Exeter Pride 2019

A new collaboration between X-Plore Youth Devon, Exeter College LGBTQ+ society, Natalie McGrath of Dreadnought SW and Dr Jana Funke of the University of Exeter explores gender and sexual diversity across time, place and culture by reimagining objects from the RAMM collections.

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Exeter City Council city centre wards map

News  ⁄  Democracy & governance

Exeter Labour loses local elections in all three city centre wards

Voters in Exeter yesterday elected three new councillors to represent them in the key wards that cover the city centre, with all the city's ruling Exeter Labour group candidates missing out despite the party's confident campaign.

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Exeter Clifton Hill sports centre

Analysis  ⁄  Planning & place

Clifton Hill sports centre – the background

Storm Emma met the Beast from the East and dumped a huge amount of snow on the roof of Exeter's Clifton Hill sports centre, setting off a chain reaction which has ignited two campaigns and put Exeter City Council's approaches to competence and openness into sharp focus.

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Jemima Moore campaigning in Exeter local elections

Profile  ⁄  Democracy & governance

Local resident stands as independent candidate in Exeter elections

Jemima Moore is a 36 year-old part-time primary school teacher and mother of two young children with little political experience. So why has she decided to stand for election to Exeter City Council on 2 May?

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Exeter City Council press and public exclusion notice

Analysis  ⁄  Democracy & governance

What does your council know that you don't know you don't know?

Extracting information from councils is hard work but increasingly necessary for local democracy.

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Greater Exeter Strategic Plan banner

Analysis  ⁄  Planning & place

Is the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan GESPing for air?

The Greater Exeter Strategic Plan has been a long time in gestation. When it finally arrives, will it deliver?

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Extinction Rebellion climate emergency protesters in Exeter Guildhall shopping centre

News  ⁄  Climate & environment

Exeter Extinction Rebellion stages climate emergency protest

Today around 70 people joined the Exeter branch of Extinction Rebellion on the city's streets to demand urgent action to minimise the risk of catastrophic impacts from climate change.

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Kaleider Mikrofest Our Dancing Shadows in Exeter Princesshay

Review  ⁄  Arts & culture

Out of sight, out of mind

A performance of From The Light of The Fire, Our Dancing Shadows in Exeter for Kaleider Mikrofest appears to favour illusion over truth in a confused rendering of Plato's cave allegory that leaves both performers and audience in the dark.

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Exeter St James period housing stock

Comment  ⁄  Planning & place

Exeter St James regeneration

How can the supply of low-cost, incrementally investable city centre accommodation be stimulated to attract and retain creative, technically-skilled young entrepreneurial talent?

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Historic Exe Bridge traffic

Comment  ⁄  Transport & mobility

Streets are for people, not cars

Cars adversely affect economic output, air quality and wellbeing, take up valuable space when parked and discourage people from walking and cycling when driven. Reducing their use would enhance Exeter's retail and leisure offer, improve public health and attract needed workers to the city.

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