Welcome to the first edition of The Exeter Digest, Exeter Observer’s essential free email newsletter. Thanks for signing up. This issue covers more ground than future editions will: we plan to publish every week or two and include fewer stories in each newsletter.
We aim to send you regular updates covering our top stories, the news in brief, upcoming local government decisions and plans and regional issues that affect Exeter.
We also aim to keep you up to date with ongoing consultations and policy-making around major challenges facing our city including democracy, development and the climate crisis.
Feedback is most welcome. This is a new format which will change and develop during the coming months: please feel free to reply to this email or otherwise get in touch with any comments or suggestions you may have.
STATISTICS IN THE BALANCE
Exeter City Council’s Chief Executive uses statistics selectively to show the city in a good light but in doing so presents an unbalanced account of Exeter’s economic and environmental status.
DARTMOOR LINE TO REOPEN
£40 million Department for Transport funding will enable passenger trains every two hours between Okehampton to Exeter by end of this year, with plans to increase to an hourly service during 2022.
ON THE WATERFRONT
Decisions taken behind closed doors in favour of commercial interests threaten a maritime and waterway heritage vision for Exeter’s historic quay, canal and canal basin.
GUILDHALL UNDER THE HAMMER?
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 for a £37.5 million maintenance backlog.
Exeter City Council 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”. At the time of writing the council still hasn’t answered our questions.
NEWS IN BRIEF
MORE BEDROOMS FOR MONOLITH?
The conversion of five of eleven retail units at The Depot on Cheeke Street would add nineteen rooms to the 715 bedrooms in the enormous student block and undermine plans for shops and leisure facilities at street level.
SCREENING ROOM WITH A VIEW
The top floor of the former Debenhams store is to be converted into a cinema by Princesshay’s owners.
GREENHOUSE GAS MILESTONE REACHED
The Met Office says 2021 will be the first year on record in which atmospheric concentration of CO2 will be 50% above pre industrial levels for more than a few days as the UK prepares to host the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference.
WHAT CLIMATE EMERGENCY?
A report has placed Devon County Council among the UK’s top local authority fossil fuel investors, with £157 million of Devon Local Government Pension Scheme money invested in companies including Royal Dutch Shell, BP, BHP, Anglo American and ExxonMobil.
MORE HOT AIR
Local councils are investing up to £7.3 million in a £23 million project to supply a development of 2500 homes in South West Exeter with heat which depends on the Marsh Barton waste incinerator, Exeter’s largest single source of carbon emissions.
The University of Exeter is seeking planning permission to demolish 30 buildings to construct 1,250 new bedrooms in ~50,000m2 of new student accommodation on a fifteen acre site at Streatham campus.
YET MORE PBSA
Developers are seeking to renew previously-granted planning permission for an eight storey 108-bed student accommodation block on the site of the King Billy public house on Longbrook Street.
LOCAL ELECTIONS ARE COMING
After deciding that the May local elections were to go ahead despite a ban on doorstep canvassing and door to door leaflet distribution which was likely to favour the two major parties, the government changed its mind to allow election canvassing after all.
The pre-election period started in Exeter with the publication of notice of election on 24 March: look out for our indispensable guide to the 6 May Exeter local elections next week.
NOTES & SKETCHES
INDEPENDENT COUNTY COUNCILLOR CLAIRE WRIGHT STANDS DOWN
Claire Wright, who has represented Otter Valley since 2013 is standing down after winning the largest majority of any county councillor two terms running.
She was also an independent parliamentary candidate for East Devon in 2015 and 2017, when she won a 25% vote share.
Her 2019 general election campaign attracted national media attention when an MRP YouGov poll found she was the most likely Independent to be elected in Britain.
However, despite increasing her vote share to over 40% the national swing preserved 150 years of continuous Conservative East Devon representation at Westminster.
She was previously a councillor on East Devon District Council from 2011 to 2015 and Ottery St Mary Town Council from 2009 to 2013.
She said: “My decision to stand aside may come as a surprise to people.
“However, I have quietly been considering my position for some time and although it has been an honour and privilege to serve my community in this way, it is now time to step aside to pursue other career opportunities.”
NO EXETER PRIDE PARADE THIS YEAR
Exeter Pride has confirmed that there would be no Pride march, festival or marketplace this year.
The Northernhay and Rougemont Gardens event has attracted up to 15,000 people in recent years.
Simon Bowkett, co-chair of Exeter Pride said: “We have been following government and health advice closely and we cannot justify risking any compromise to the health of our community.
“We are sorry if this disappoints people who were looking forward to our usual get-togethers but look out for what we have in-store in the near and distant future.”
MOUNT RADFORD LAWN TRIBUNAL DECISION
The St Leonard’s Neighbourhood Association vision for Mount Radford Lawn has taken an important step towards becoming a reality.
Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education, the land’s owner, has failed in its attempt to overturn Exeter City Council’s decision to list Mount Radford Lawn as an “Asset of Community Value”.
The Deaf Academy previously attempted to develop the historic site, which has been maintained as recreational green space for at least the past 450 years, into luxury housing.
Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership has published its contribution to the increasingly popular genre of “Build Back Better” plans.
The document is “rooted in the ambitious vision” of the LEP’s existing Local Industrial Strategy.
The pitch? “Clean and inclusive growth”.
ON THE AGENDA
NORTHBROOK APPROACH CONSULTATION TO 3 MAY
After backtracking on its plans to redevelop the golf course (which closed in 2019) into housing, the city council now wants community views on the site’s future. The council’s draft Parks and Green Spaces strategy mentions “sponsorship and commercial opportunities” as “alternatives to traditional revenue funding”. Have your say here.
“EXETER STREETS” NEWTOWN CONSULTATION TO 30 APRIL
After Heavitree and Whipton it’s the turn of Newtown residents to tell Exeter City Council and Devon County Council how they would like to see their neighbourhood improved. The consultation emphasis is on increasing “active travel” although it offers scope to comment on a range of issues including public spaces, parking, play and recreation and the wider community.
We’re not sure whether running this consultation during the pre-election period is strictly in line with the letter of the legislation that restricts local government communication activities, but that shouldn’t prevent Newtown residents having their say. The survey will inform proposals which will come forward during the summer.
A NEW EXETER LOCAL PLAN IS ON ITS WAY
Exeter City Council’s Executive forward plan lists a Local Development Scheme report due on 1 June then a Local Plan initial consultation document for approval on 6 July. The governance, resourcing and timetable arrangements for the East Devon, Exeter. Mid Devon and Teignbridge Joint Plan (aka GESP Redux) are also due on 6 July, for a final decision on 20 July by full council.
LIVEABLE EXETER UPDATE
An update on the Liveable Exeter programme is also due at the Executive meeting on 1 June. The city council’s full meetings calendar is here.
ON OUR READING LIST
RENEWING NEIGHBOURHOOD DEMOCRACY
A Localis report looking at recent initiatives in the UK aimed at overcoming previous policy failures and instances from abroad where new models of local governance have been applied.
Top line “Weak and weakening social infrastructure, complex bureaucratic structures, poor connectivity and a history of ever-changing, overlapping initiatives all act as barriers to neighbourhood democracy.”
LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN ENGLAND - 40 YEARS OF DECLINE
A report from the De Montfort University Local Governance Research Centre commissioned by Unlock Democracy and Joseph Rowntree Foundation that looks at the centralisation of power from local government to central government in England and the scope for its restoration to local communities.
Top line “Our report brings into sharp relief the extend to which central constraints and an over-centralisation of power and resources have played against local government, with negative impacts on communities across England”.
ART OF DARKNESS - HOW THE GOVERNMENT IS UNDERMINING FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
An Open Democracy exposé of a secretive Cabinet Office “clearing house” for freedom of information requests which is accused of “blacklisting” journalists.
BREAKING NEWS? THE FUTURE OF UK JOURNALISM
House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee report. PDF version here.
TRUST IN NEWS - FIRST REPORT
The first report of a three year University of Oxford Reuters Institute project examining which digital news sources people trust, why people invest their trust in them, and what publishers and platforms can do to help people make decisions about what news to trust online. PDF version here.
PUBLISH LESS, BUT PUBLISH BETTER - PIVOTING TO PAID IN LOCAL NEWS
Reuters Institute Digital News Project report examining ways in which local and regional newspapers have adapted their editorial and business strategies to remain sustainable in the digital media environment. PDF version here.
SON OF EXETER TO STAR AT COP26?
Katy Balls says in a Spectator piece on government plans to turn COP26 into a crowd-pleasing UK PLC promo “bigger than the Olympics” that Exeter-born musician Chris Martin is in line to play the face of the event. Apparently he was at university with No.10 Chief of Staff Dan Rosenfield. We’re looking forward to seeing what the Exeter Live Better marketing team comes up with if this comes to pass.
NIGHTMARE ON MARKET STREET?
For those who missed it on 1 April here’s our coverage of Exeter City Council’s plan to produce “Exeter the Musical” at the city’s Corn Exchange.