News  ⁄  Transport & mobility

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".

Devon county council   Coronavirus   Cycling & walking   Exeter city centre   Topsham  

Devon County Council has abandoned its plans for temporary COVID-19 cycling and walking safety measures in Exeter city centre despite widespread support for the changes from survey respondents and consultees.

The proposed changes were to be funded under the first phase of a £250 million coronavirus emergency active travel fund announced by the Secretary of State for Transport on 9 May.

The county council has repeatedly said it would provide “improved foot and cycle access to the city centre via South Street, Fore Street and North Street, including widening of footways with temporary barriers on key pedestrian and public transport route to the city centre, including additional space around busy Cowick Street bus stops.”

Andrew Leadbetter, Devon County Council cabinet liaison for Exeter, initially confirmed the changes would take place by 1 June but work only started elsewhere in Exeter the following week.

Stuart Hughes, Devon County Council cabinet member for highways management, then said the county would be “moving on to additional changes to the city centre” and subsequently confirmed that “further changes” would be introduced “over the next few weeks as the roll-out of this programme continues”.

And Exeter’s Highways and Traffic Orders Committee was told as recently as 22 July that the schemes on Fore Street and South Street were “in progress” while the scheme on Cowick Street was under “discussion”.

However the county council has since said that the first tranche of funding has been spent on measures which have already been installed, while information about the North Street, Fore Street and Cowick Street proposals has been removed from its website and no further details have been provided for the South Street scheme.

Pedestrians on Exeter Fore Street Pedestrians on Exeter Fore Street with limited social distancing space

In addition, Department for Transport guidance specified that any “pop-up” cycling facilities installed under the scheme should have a “minimum level of physical separation from volume traffic” and should use “light segregation features such as flexible plastic wands” and “be segregated as far as possible, i.e. with physical measures separating cyclists and other traffic.”

It continued: “Lanes indicated by road markings only are very unlikely to be sufficient to deliver the level of change needed, especially in the longer term”.

However the changes introduced on Magdalen Road do not physically separate cyclists from traffic, rely on road markings only, and compel cyclists to ride closer to oncoming vehicles than before.

The county council said that the car parking on Magdalen Road was “considered essential by traders”, so in order to provide a “safe amount of room for vehicles to manoeuvre in and out of the spaces” a cycle lane with “lined segregation” was implemented. As a consequence, the cycle lane is obstructed when drivers swing across it in order to park.

The county council also said the guidance did not say that cycle lanes must be segregated.

A man crosses Exeter South Street between moving and parked cars A man crosses Exeter South Street between moving and parked cars

At the end of May Exeter City Futures convened a wide range of stakeholders including county councillors, city councillors, Exeter’s chief executive and MP and others for an “Emergency Transport & Travel Roundtable” which discussed transport proposals for the city.

A subsequent report which described participants as a “balanced mix of representation” recorded their recommendations for a series of “top priorities for action” which included closing arterial routes, significantly improving cycle routes, trialling a congestion charge, pedestrianising the city centre and reallocating road space for buses and cyclists.

And in June Exeter Cycling Campaign conducted a community survey which received responses from more than 900 people in just ten days, 90% of whom were car owners.

96% of respondents were in favour of low traffic neighbourhoods, 95% said they would feel safer cycling in the city if separate bike paths were built, 69% wanted less motor traffic on residential streets and 55% supported the introduction of lower speed limits.

A cyclist, buses and pedestrians on Exeter Fore Street A cyclist, buses and pedestrians on Exeter Fore Street

However a presentation by the county council’s Head of Planning, Transportation and Environment to Exeter’s Highways and Traffic Orders Committee on 22 July said that, alongside public support and a majority in favour, there was “pushback” from traders who were “typically less receptive to changes”.

It was told that the North Street scheme that the county had proposed, which would have included a contraflow leading to the signalised junction of North Street, Paul Street and St David’s Hill, was “too complex”, although South Street, Fore Street and Cowick Street also include signalised junctions.

The committee was also told that further liaison was still to take place with traders on Fore Street and South Street and discussion with local members on Cowick Street.

The committee members then agreed to delegate further decisions concerning any new “pop-up” schemes, and further changes to existing schemes, to the county council Head of Planning, Transportation and Environment in consultation with the committee chair and local member.

It also agreed to keep existing temporary walking and cycling measures until 13 October this year, when they will be reviewed following consultation. The government guidance allows them to stay in place for up to eighteen months.

The committee also heard that the county plans to spend £318,203 of the second round of funding on three permanent changes in Exeter, none of which are in the city centre.

Detailed reports to the committee examined these three changes, which are listed in the Exeter schemes the county council has included in its bid for second round funding, due for submission on 7 August.

The bid also mentions “South Street and Fore Street cycle improvements”, but provides no further details.

Topsham Fore Street temporary pedestrianised zone proposalst

Topsham Fore Street temporary pedestrianised zone proposals. Source: Exeter City Council.

The July meeting of Exeter’s Highways and Traffic Orders Committee was also told that proposals for similar coronavirus emergency measures in Topsham which would have temporarily turned its Fore Street into a pedestrianised zone had been discussed but were not part of the government scheme.

A seven day public consultation concerning these proposals, which were promoted by Exeter City Council as part of a government initiative to re-open High Streets, was held in the form of an online “snap poll”. This then informed a decision not to proceed with the changes. The results of the poll were removed after it concluded, and are no longer available in the public domain.

The “Topsham Councillor Team” Facebook page, which is published on behalf of the city council’s three Topsham ward councillors, Andrew Leadbetter (who is both a city and county councillor), Rob Newby and Keith Sparkes featured this post on the day the poll opened:

“Exeter City Council are likely to shut Fore Street in Topsham to traffic as part of their Covid 19 response. You may have seen other restrictions in other parts of the city that are contributing to traffic congestion such as making Magdalen Road, one way.

“These measures are causing hardship to local businesses and are widely opposed. The Topsham Ward Councillors are concerned, having already talked to traders and local residents.

“We are aware that before Covid 19 shops in Topsham saw a dramatic drop in trade due to street works that stopped cars using the short term free parking. This latest experiment could last for 18 months. The closure does not have the support of Devon County Council, or local traders.

“We would urge you to voice your objection directly to Exeter City Council by filling in their 1 minute survey that can be found at [broken link] and also ask that you complete our quick straw poll that can be found on our facebook page.”

Pedestrians on Topsham Fore Street Pedestrians on Topsham Fore Street. Photo: Exeter City Council.

The Facebook poll was prefaced with: “Exeter City Council are proposing to close Fore St Topsham to vehicles and bicycles to enforce social distancing. The road closure could impact dramatically on local shops and could last for up to 18 months.

“Is this a good idea when shops are struggling to survive following Covid 19?”

A protest was then held on 29 June, the day before the “snap poll” closed, organised by traders and residents “to stop Topsham ‘being turned into a ghost town’”.

It appears Devon County Council did not engage in pubic consultation on the issue, despite its officers collaborating with with Exeter City Council officers on the proposals, and it remains unclear who took the decision to drop the proposals.

A county council spokesperson said: “Not all of the proposed changes in Exeter have been realised, partly due to the limited funding available, while some changes have also been made as a result of consultation, and as lockdown has eased across the country.

“We have listened to feedback and amended proposals accordingly. This reflects the statutory guidance, which states that, ‘local businesses, including those temporarily closed, should be consulted to ensure proposals meet their needs when they re-open’”.

However, the guidance also says it does not replace the 2004 Network Management Duty Guidance, which states that the local transport authority: “should seek the views of residents, local businesses and the different road users both when deciding which policies on network management to adopt and when monitoring whether these policies are delivering the required outcomes.”

It goes on to say: “When developing strategies and processes for improving the operation of the road network, local transport authorities should consult with the public, frontagers, representatives of road users and neighbouring authorities with an interest.

“Focus groups of representative street users and facilitated meetings with representatives of street users and adjoining authorities are other useful means of consultation.

“One of the findings from several consultation exercises carried out by local transport authorities is that the public have little idea of who is responsible for the management of the road network in their area and would welcome a well publicised method of contacting someone responsible.”

The day after the decision to drop the Topsham scheme was announced, the county council cabinet approved a £27 million increase on highways spending this year, making the “largest ever annual investment in Devon’s road network”.

It has since announced that the junction of North Street and South Street in Exeter city centre will be closed next week, not for the installation of temporary emergency active travel infrastructure, but to resurface the carriageway.


Devon County Council initially failed to respond to a request for comment on the issues raised in this article.

It subsequently responded after the article was published, which has been amended to reflect answers to some of the questions asked.

In its response Devon County Council also said: “The first tranche of Active Travel measures has to be introduced within eight weeks of receiving the funding, which takes us up to the end of August”.

As this contradicted the Department for Transport guidance (reproduced on the county council’s website that work on reallocation of road space under the first phase of the scheme should be completed within eight weeks of starting (so by 31 July), the Department for Transport has been approached for clarification.

UPDATE 6pm 5 August 2020

The Department for Transport has now responded and confirmed that it subsequently agreed that the eight week delivery period would begin on 6 July, when funding was disbursed, so the county council is correct to say that the deadline for delivery of the first tranche of active travel measures is 31 August.

The article has been amended accordingly.

However, as the county council has also said that the first tranche of funding has been spent on measures which have already been installed, and has not responded to a request for clarification of the status of the temporary Exeter city centre changes, the available information continues to support the conclusion that none of the proposed first phase city centre schemes will now be delivered.

The county council was also asked, and failed to respond to, the following questions:

  • Why was a less complex North Street scheme that would have facilitated delivery not proposed?
  • How has informal consultation with non-trader stakeholders been incorporated into decision-making about changes in Exeter city centre under this scheme?
  • How were the Topsham proposals to be funded?
  • Did the proposed Topsham Fore Street closure have the support of Devon County Council?
  • Did Devon County Council engage in public consultation concerning the Topsham proposals?
  • On what basis was the decision not to proceed with the Topsham proposals taken?
  • Does this approach to public consultation meet the standards for good governance contained in Devon County Council’s Annual Governance Statement?

It was also asked for a simple summary breakdown indicating where the £150,000 tranche one emergency active travel scheme funding allocated to Exeter has been spent, including the amount spent in each location, but did not supply this information.


 is editor of Exeter Observer and a member and director of its publisher Exeter Observer Limited.

 


Recent stories
Harlequins revised redevelopment scheme illustrative elevation

Harlequins developer plans to scrap hotel to build second "co-living" block on shopping centre site

Positive Light Projects - Sidwell Street entrance

Positive Light Projects opens community arts centre despite CityPoint redevelopment threat

New Haven Field in Exeter's Riverside Valley Park

River Exe green spaces and heritage harbour site threatened by "Liveable Exeter" development scheme

Extinction Rebellion climate activist Imogen May

Environmental activist Imogen May defiant after second liability order for non-payment of council tax

Clydesdale, Nash and Birks Grange Village redevelopment illustrative elevations

University drops environmental standards for huge student flats development with council approval

Kinder Exeter community festival on Cathedral Green

Kinder Exeter community festival brings compassion and colour to city centre

Help power our public interest journalism


Never miss a story
on Exeter Observer

More News
Harlequins revised redevelopment scheme illustrative elevation

Harlequins developer plans to scrap hotel to build second "co-living" block on shopping centre site

Existing planning approval will be factor in decision to return to earlier, rejected, vision which would mean 378 studios and "cluster flat" rooms along Paul Street.

Extinction Rebellion climate activist Imogen May

Environmental activist Imogen May defiant after second liability order for non-payment of council tax

Extinction Rebellion demonstrated at Exeter Law Courts in support of Crediton lone parent who has withheld council tax for two years in protest over government climate crisis inaction.

Kinder Exeter community festival on Cathedral Green

Kinder Exeter community festival brings compassion and colour to city centre

Week-long event bringing artists, academics, students and communities together for online and outdoor activities was first of planned annual festivals facilitated by Maketank artists' collective.

All News
More 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.

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.

Department for Transport New Road Layout for Social Distancing coronavirus road sign

Coronavirus exposes council failure to deliver Exeter transport plans

Devon County Council's failure to deliver overdue Exeter transport strategy and cycling and walking plan has led to an inadequate response to government demands for emergency coronavirus road layout changes.

All Transport & Mobility
Analysis
Positive Light Projects - Sidwell Street entrance

Positive Light Projects opens community arts centre despite CityPoint redevelopment threat

Parts of Exeter city centre are experiencing an unplanned renaissance as small shops and cultural venues move in to fill empty units on Paris Street and Sidwell Street, but uncertainty remains as the council still plans to demolish and redevelop.

New Haven Field in Exeter's Riverside Valley Park

River Exe green spaces and heritage harbour site threatened by "Liveable Exeter" development scheme

Exeter Civic Society and Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors raise alarm at prospect of Exeter City Council development in river valley park and historic canal basin.

Clydesdale, Nash and Birks Grange Village redevelopment illustrative elevations

University drops environmental standards for huge student flats development with council approval

University of Exeter and Exeter City Council both ignore own policies in plans to demolish 30 buildings and construct 50,000m2 of new student accommodation, telling us more about their priorities than their climate leadership claims.

All Analysis
Comment
UN Secretary General António Guterres briefs the media

António Guterres on the climate crisis: "We are coming to a point of no return"

An interview with the UN Secretary General on the eve of the G7 summit in Cornwall published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration.

Net Zero Exeter logo

Is Exeter City Council going to abandon its Net Zero 2030 target?

Review suggests alignment with Devon Carbon Plan, currently aimed at 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050, citing "technical and financial challenges ahead", although change in policy would require decision by councillors after 6 May local elections.

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.

All Comment
Planning & Place
Harlequins revised redevelopment scheme illustrative elevation

Harlequins developer plans to scrap hotel to build second "co-living" block on shopping centre site

Existing planning approval will be factor in decision to return to earlier, rejected, vision which would mean 378 studios and "cluster flat" rooms along Paul Street.

New Haven Field in Exeter's Riverside Valley Park

River Exe green spaces and heritage harbour site threatened by "Liveable Exeter" development scheme

Exeter Civic Society and Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors raise alarm at prospect of Exeter City Council development in river valley park and historic canal basin.

Clydesdale, Nash and Birks Grange Village redevelopment illustrative elevations

University drops environmental standards for huge student flats development with council approval

University of Exeter and Exeter City Council both ignore own policies in plans to demolish 30 buildings and construct 50,000m2 of new student accommodation, telling us more about their priorities than their climate leadership claims.

All Planning & Place
Arts & Culture
Positive Light Projects - Sidwell Street entrance

Positive Light Projects opens community arts centre despite CityPoint redevelopment threat

Parts of Exeter city centre are experiencing an unplanned renaissance as small shops and cultural venues move in to fill empty units on Paris Street and Sidwell Street, but uncertainty remains as the council still plans to demolish and redevelop.

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.

All Arts & Culture
Climate & Environment
Extinction Rebellion climate activist Imogen May

Environmental activist Imogen May defiant after second liability order for non-payment of council tax

Extinction Rebellion demonstrated at Exeter Law Courts in support of Crediton lone parent who has withheld council tax for two years in protest over government climate crisis inaction.

UN Secretary General António Guterres briefs the media

António Guterres on the climate crisis: "We are coming to a point of no return"

An interview with the UN Secretary General on the eve of the G7 summit in Cornwall published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration.

Devon Pension Fund fossil fuel holdings

Devon Pension Fund fossil fuel investment position exposed by Shell and BP AGM votes

Shareholder support for Paris Agreement-compatible goals increases but fails to prevent continuing oil and gas exploration, extraction, production or consumption as experts intensify warnings that emissions reductions goals will be missed.

All Climate & Environment
Democracy & Governance
Exeter City Council 2021 election results ballot share percentage by ward

Did Exeter's local elections results tell a Labour success story?

Exeter Labour lost just one seat in the city council elections and held all seven of its county hall seats, but on closer inspection its performance was more mixed than these headline results imply.

Exeter City Council in session at Exeter Guildhall - Inauguration of Lord Mayor

High Court rules council meetings must resume in person after local elections

Case seeking judgement to allow local authority meetings to continue remotely when temporary coronavirus regulations expire fails to override requirement for primary legislation.

Electoral Commission ballot box graphic

2021 Exeter local elections guide

Elections for Exeter City Council, Devon County Council and the Devon & Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner are taking place in Exeter on 6 May. Our essential election guide highlights wards and divisions to watch, changes taking place and how, when and where to vote.

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
Kinder Exeter community festival on Cathedral Green

Kinder Exeter community festival brings compassion and colour to city centre

Week-long event bringing artists, academics, students and communities together for online and outdoor activities was first of planned annual festivals facilitated by Maketank artists' collective.

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.

All Community & Society