The exeter digest

Exeter Digest #1: Statistics in the balance - Dartmoor Line to reopen - Local elections are coming

In this first edition of Exeter Observer's email newsletter we introduce our format and bring you up to date with our coverage over the past couple of months.

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.

TOP STORIES

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.

PUSH NOTIFICATION

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.

WRECKING BALL

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.

OTHER NEWS

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 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. Exeter Observer will pick up the story in a special feature soon.

BUZZWORD BINGO!

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.

LAST WORDS

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.


Recent stories
Protestors hold Devon County Council stop funding fossil fuel companies banner in Bedford Square

County council doubles down on pension fund divestment position

Universities social mobility scatter chart showing University of Exeter ranking

University of Exeter ranked bottom of Russell Group and 103rd overall in social mobility league table

Reclaim the Night march on Exeter High Street

500 march in Reclaim the Night protest against sexual violence and harassment on Exeter streets

Black-tailed godwits in Exe Estuary

Exe Estuary wildlife refuges succeed in increasing bird numbers

St Thomas Community Garden volunteers

First St Thomas winter market brings festival feel to "overlooked" area of Exeter

Harlequins revised redevelopment scheme - block two model view Paul Street elevation

Exeter City Council approves second Harlequins "co-living" block, sealing fate of Paul Street


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All Exeter Digest
News
Universities social mobility scatter chart showing University of Exeter ranking

University of Exeter ranked bottom of Russell Group and 103rd overall in social mobility league table

Landmark study by Institute for Fiscal Studies, Sutton Trust and Department for Education finds University of Exeter undergraduates are less likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those that do are less likely to be high earners.

Reclaim the Night march on Exeter High Street

500 march in Reclaim the Night protest against sexual violence and harassment on Exeter streets

Annual event promoting public awareness of male violence against women and girls in public spaces coincides with international human rights campaigns.

Black-tailed godwits in Exe Estuary

Exe Estuary wildlife refuges succeed in increasing bird numbers

Three year monitoring study confirms introduction of protected spaces has resulted in greater numbers of wildfowl using internationally important Dawlish Warren and Exmouth sites.

All News
Analysis
Protestors hold Devon County Council stop funding fossil fuel companies banner in Bedford Square

County council doubles down on pension fund divestment position

Devon Pension Fund remains committed to fossil fuel investment despite increasingly untenable pension fund committee position that relies on unfounded shareholder influence claims and failure to understand sector position and plans.

Harlequins revised redevelopment scheme - block two model view Paul Street elevation

Exeter City Council approves second Harlequins "co-living" block, sealing fate of Paul Street

Previously rejected vision will now form basis of "abysmal" and "poorly thought through" Liveable Exeter development of 383 "units of accommodation" with increased proportion of substandard studios but reduced economic value to city.

Exeter City Council climate credentials claim in St Sidwells Point development hoarding

Greens call for evidence-based Exeter carbon budget as city council clings to net zero rhetoric

The Net Zero Exeter plan lacks baseline emissions figures, recognised scope definitions and measurement and reporting frameworks, placing the city's decarbonisation agenda at risk. The opportunity for Exeter to demonstrate genuine climate crisis leadership nevertheless remains.

All Analysis
Comment
Cargo bike carrying kids in Exeter

If you think electric vehicles are the answer, you're asking the wrong question

Mike Walton of Exeter Cycling Campaign says we shouldn't be seduced by the motoring lobby into believing that electric cars can create the future we and our children need.

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
Transport & Mobility
Cargo bike carrying kids in Exeter

If you think electric vehicles are the answer, you're asking the wrong question

Mike Walton of Exeter Cycling Campaign says we shouldn't be seduced by the motoring lobby into believing that electric cars can create the future we and our children need.

RMT campaign sticker on Exeter bus shelter

Stagecoach strike to take place following failed pay negotiations

Transport union RMT says Stagecoach pay offer is unsatisfactory and demands better conditions as staff shortages threaten services.

Peninsula Transport vision document cover image

30 year plan for SW transport outlined in consultation document

Strategic vision places investment in roads ahead of decarbonisation despite acknowledging the region's high car dependency rate.

All Transport & Mobility
Planning & Place
Harlequins revised redevelopment scheme - block two model view Paul Street elevation

Exeter City Council approves second Harlequins "co-living" block, sealing fate of Paul Street

Previously rejected vision will now form basis of "abysmal" and "poorly thought through" Liveable Exeter development of 383 "units of accommodation" with increased proportion of substandard studios but reduced economic value to city.

Independent local business on Paris Street, Exeter

Prospects improve for pop-up Paris Street and Sidwell Street tenants wanting to stay on development site

Council leader Phil Bialyk says it will be "some years" before planned CityPoint redevelopment affects repurposed retail units, and that council "would want" to accommodate artistic and cultural initiatives and independent local businesses "should they wish to remain".

Clifton Hill sports centre

Council plans to scrap affordable housing requirement for Clifton Hill sports centre site redevelopment

Council-owned and financed developer cites unpublished report which values council-owned land for student housing despite council decision ruling out this use.

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
Protestors hold Devon County Council stop funding fossil fuel companies banner in Bedford Square

County council doubles down on pension fund divestment position

Devon Pension Fund remains committed to fossil fuel investment despite increasingly untenable pension fund committee position that relies on unfounded shareholder influence claims and failure to understand sector position and plans.

Black-tailed godwits in Exe Estuary

Exe Estuary wildlife refuges succeed in increasing bird numbers

Three year monitoring study confirms introduction of protected spaces has resulted in greater numbers of wildfowl using internationally important Dawlish Warren and Exmouth sites.

Exeter Extinction Rebellion activists fly flag outside COP26 Exeter event at Maketank with COP26 Exeter photography project in window

COP-EXE event showcases local responses to global climate crisis

Exeter city centre venues last week hosted exhibitions promoting local action to mitigate the climate crisis in tandem with the COP26 conference in Glasgow.

All Climate & Environment
Democracy & Governance
Liveable Exeter Place Board agenda October 2020 redacted

City council outsourcing Exeter local government to unaccountable Liveable Exeter Place Board

An Exeter Observer investigation of Liveable Exeter Place Board has found that it is a de facto decision-making and governance body which exercises public functions with the potential to affect everyone who lives and works in Exeter.

Exeter city centre from Exeter Cathedral roof

Freedom of Information requests reveal Liveable Exeter Place Board "chumocracy" overseeing the city

Despite the significance of Liveable Exeter Place Board's role in determining the city's future, its members are selected and appointed on a secretive, informal basis.

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.

All Democracy & Governance
Community & Society
Universities social mobility scatter chart showing University of Exeter ranking

University of Exeter ranked bottom of Russell Group and 103rd overall in social mobility league table

Landmark study by Institute for Fiscal Studies, Sutton Trust and Department for Education finds University of Exeter undergraduates are less likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those that do are less likely to be high earners.

Reclaim the Night march on Exeter High Street

500 march in Reclaim the Night protest against sexual violence and harassment on Exeter streets

Annual event promoting public awareness of male violence against women and girls in public spaces coincides with international human rights campaigns.

St Thomas Community Garden volunteers

First St Thomas winter market brings festival feel to "overlooked" area of Exeter

A community-run event at St Thomas' Church combined artisan traders with music, storytelling and craft workshops to create a family-friendly festival atmosphere.

All Community & Society
Economy & Enterprise
Job Centre Plus entrance

Exeter workers to be among hardest hit by £20 cut in universal credit

Analysis shows proportion of benefit claimants in Exeter in work is among highest in country.

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.

All Economy & Enterprise