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

 


Recent stories
Exeter the musical promo poster

Council announces plan to produce "Exeter the Musical" at city's Corn Exchange

Centre for Cities Exeter City Monitor graphic

Selective use of statistics presents an unbalanced account of Exeter's economic & environmental status

Empty retail units at The Depot Purpose Built Student Accommodation block on Cheeke Street in Exeter

Developer plans to convert retail units in Exeter city centre block to additional student bedrooms

Train at Okehampton Station in 2015

Okehampton to Exeter "Dartmoor Line" passenger rail service reinstatement confirmed

Atmospheric rise in carbon dioxide from the industrial revolution to the present

Atmospheric concentration of CO2 now 50% above pre-industrial levels

Maclaines Warehouses beside Exeter ship canal

Maclaines Warehouses development tests Exeter Heritage Harbour status

Support Exeter Observer

More Analysis
Maclaines Warehouses beside Exeter ship canal

Maclaines Warehouses development tests Exeter Heritage Harbour status

Decisions taken behind closed doors in favour of commercial interests threaten maritime and waterway heritage vision for Exeter’s historic quay, canal and canal basin.

Exeter Guildhall needs repairs

£37.5 million council maintenance backlog caused by underinvestment to be part-funded by asset sales

Exeter City Council has allowed property assets to deteriorate while prioritising new schemes including the £44 million St Sidwell's Point leisure centre, forcing it to identify assets for sale to pay its outstanding repair bills.

Exeter City Council offices on Paris Street

Council pushes back on Liveable Exeter Place Board scrutiny following membership change

Exeter City Council has responded to an enquiry about disproportionate Church of England representation on the Liveable Exeter Place Board by accusing Exeter Observer of promoting a "partisan narrative" and claiming our public interest reporting "bears no resemblance to fact".

All Analysis
More Planning & Place
Empty retail units at The Depot Purpose Built Student Accommodation block on Cheeke Street in Exeter

Developer plans to convert retail units in Exeter city centre block to additional student bedrooms

Conversion of five of eleven shop/leisure units at The Depot on Cheeke Street would add nineteen rooms to existing 715 bedrooms in monolithic PBSA.

Maclaines Warehouses beside Exeter ship canal

Maclaines Warehouses development tests Exeter Heritage Harbour status

Decisions taken behind closed doors in favour of commercial interests threaten maritime and waterway heritage vision for Exeter’s historic quay, canal and canal basin.

Clydesdale and Birks development illustrative view

University plans to demolish 30 buildings to construct ~50,000m2 of new student accommodation

Permission sought for 1,250 new bedrooms on fifteen acre Streatham campus Clydesdale and Birks development site, half as large again as 1,200 bedroom East Park development.

All Planning & Place

Support Exeter Observer

News
Empty retail units at The Depot Purpose Built Student Accommodation block on Cheeke Street in Exeter

Developer plans to convert retail units in Exeter city centre block to additional student bedrooms

Conversion of five of eleven shop/leisure units at The Depot on Cheeke Street would add nineteen rooms to existing 715 bedrooms in monolithic PBSA.

Train at Okehampton Station in 2015

Okehampton to Exeter "Dartmoor Line" passenger rail service reinstatement confirmed

£40 million Department for Transport "Restoring your Railway" funding to enable trains every two hours by end of this year, with plans to increase to hourly service during 2022. Stakeholders combine to get South West infrastructure needs onto Whitehall agenda.

Atmospheric rise in carbon dioxide from the industrial revolution to the present

Atmospheric concentration of CO2 now 50% above pre-industrial levels

Met Office says 2021 will be first year on record in which symbolic threshold breached for more than a few days as UK prepares to host COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference.

All News
Comment
Centre for Cities Exeter City Monitor graphic

Selective use of statistics presents an unbalanced account of Exeter's economic & environmental status

Exeter City Council's Chief Executive uses statistics to show the city in a good light, but in doing so presents a picture which omits important information about the city's true position.

Exeter City Futures Blueprint for a Carbon Neutral Exeter by 2030 graphic

Is Exeter finally responding to the climate emergency?

A surge of activity about action to combat climate change is taking place in Exeter, including the publication of a carbon neutral blueprint pending a "mobilisation summit", but detail and evidence is still missing and community engagement is falling short of debate.

Exeter anti-government protest Devon for Europe speaker

Exeter protest misses its mark by mixing its messages

One of Exeter's biggest ever street demonstrations combined anti-Brexit and pro-democracy concerns to produce a confused protest against government policy.

All Comment
Transport & Mobility
Train at Okehampton Station in 2015

Okehampton to Exeter "Dartmoor Line" passenger rail service reinstatement confirmed

£40 million Department for Transport "Restoring your Railway" funding to enable trains every two hours by end of this year, with plans to increase to hourly service during 2022. Stakeholders combine to get South West infrastructure needs onto Whitehall agenda.

Pedestrians and people waiting at bus stop on Exeter Cowick Street

Council abandons temporary COVID-19 cycling and walking safety plans in Exeter city centre

Devon County Council cites "pushback" from traders as schemes on North Street, South Street, Fore Street and Cowick Street are scrapped. Meanwhile temporary changes in Topsham are dropped after "snap poll".

Cyclists, pedestrians and cars compete for space on Union Road, Exeter, 1 June 2020

Devon County Council fails to deliver promised COVID-19 cycling and walking infrastructure

Deadline for action on social distancing for safe travel set by county cabinet member passes despite Devon receiving £1.7 million share of government emergency fund.

All Transport & Mobility
Arts & Culture
Exeter Princesshay Debenhams closing down sale

Top floor of former Debenhams store to be converted into cinema

Princesshay owner's proposals for change of use to four screen cinema and cafe/bar have been under discussion since November 2019.

Preston Street Union present SERGE/SURGE at Cricklepit Mill

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.

Photo of The Jambassadors by Gabe Riedlinger

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.

All Arts & Culture
Climate & Environment
Atmospheric rise in carbon dioxide from the industrial revolution to the present

Atmospheric concentration of CO2 now 50% above pre-industrial levels

Met Office says 2021 will be first year on record in which symbolic threshold breached for more than a few days as UK prepares to host COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference.

Devon County Council local authority pension fund fossil fuel investment bar chart

Report places Devon County Council among UK's top local authority fossil fuel investors

£157 million of Devon Local Government Pension Scheme is invested in companies including Royal Dutch Shell, BP, BHP, Anglo American and ExxonMobil despite local authority climate emergency declarations and carbon reduction commitments.

Exeter energy recovery facility

District heating network planned for new South West Exeter development

Local councils are investing up to £7.3 million in a £23 million project to supply a development of 2500 homes with heat which depends on the Marsh Barton waste incinerator, Exeter's largest single source of carbon emissions.

All Climate & Environment
Democracy & Governance
Exeter Guildhall needs repairs

£37.5 million council maintenance backlog caused by underinvestment to be part-funded by asset sales

Exeter City Council has allowed property assets to deteriorate while prioritising new schemes including the £44 million St Sidwell's Point leisure centre, forcing it to identify assets for sale to pay its outstanding repair bills.

Independent councillor Jemima Moore campaigns in Newtown during the 2019 Exeter local elections

Door to door campaigning for May local elections to go ahead after all

Government announces relaxation of coronavirus restrictions on election canvassing from next Monday 8 March in step with planned lockdown rule changes.

Exeter City Council offices on Paris Street

Council pushes back on Liveable Exeter Place Board scrutiny following membership change

Exeter City Council has responded to an enquiry about disproportionate Church of England representation on the Liveable Exeter Place Board by accusing Exeter Observer of promoting a "partisan narrative" and claiming our public interest reporting "bears no resemblance to fact".

All Democracy & Governance
Education & Skills
Exeter University & College Union strike third week rally at St David's Church - Billy Bragg concert

University of Exeter strike ends third week with rally and concert at St David's Church

The Exeter branch of the University & College Union (UCU) is taking part in four weeks of national industrial action over pensions, equal pay for female and BAME staff, increasing workloads and the use of casual employment contracts.

Striking University of Exeter history lecturers Dr Jennifer Farrell and Dr Gemma Clark

University of Exeter staff strike over pay, pensions and working conditions

The Exeter branch of the University & College Union (UCU) is taking part in a national eight day strike for fair pay and pensions, including equal pay for female and BAME staff, and against casualisation and increasing workloads.

Rhian Keyse speaking at Exeter UCU's anti-casualisation campaign launch

Education union challenges university to address widespread casualisation of teaching staff

Exeter University & College Union (UCU) launched an anti-casualisation campaign on Friday as a prelude to negotiation with the University of Exeter over academic staff contracts.

Economy & Enterprise
Centre for Cities Exeter City Monitor graphic

Selective use of statistics presents an unbalanced account of Exeter's economic & environmental status

Exeter City Council's Chief Executive uses statistics to show the city in a good light, but in doing so presents a picture which omits important information about the city's true position.

Illustration showing how the new building will look when completed

Exeter Science Park STEMM "grow-out building" construction begins

A new specialist centre for fast-growth Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths & Medicine businesses will be completed by November 2021.

Small retail businesses on Paris Street, Exeter

Half of COVID-19 support grants unclaimed by Exeter businesses

Exeter City Council in bottom third of local authorities as only 45% of eligible local businesses claim government coronavirus support money.

All Economy & Enterprise
Community & Society
Great Western Hotel beside Exeter St David's railway station

Exeter rough sleepers in COVID-19 emergency accommodation face uncertain future

Exeter City Council has yet to confirm whether it will use any of the £2.15m Rough Sleeping Initiative funding it has received since 2018 to keep housing rough sleepers when government emergency accommodation funding runs out.

Night shelter for homeless and rough sleepers in Magdalen Street, Exeter (front)

Exeter rough sleepers night shelter to open all year round

Exeter City Council has approved plans to extend Magdalen Street night shelter opening from April to the end of September.

Sally Ride, America's first woman astronaut communicates with ground controllers from the flight deck

University of Exeter PRISM network champions queer STEMM pioneers

Exeter students celebrated the lives of polar explorer and botanist Elke Mackenzie, inventor, engineer and futurist Nikola Tesla and astronaut and children's author Sally Ride in winning LGBT+ network competition entries.

All Community & Society