The exeter digest

Exeter Digest #3: Devon Pension Fund fossil fuel investment - SW Exeter district heating network - Exeter local election results

The third edition of our essential newsletter offers something for everyone on sunny bank holiday weekend.

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TOP STORIES

DEVON PENSION FUND’S FOSSIL FUEL INVESTMENT POSITION EXPOSED

We follow up on a February report which placed the Devon fund among the country’s largest local government pension fund fossil fuel investors with an assessment of whether Devon County Council’s subsequent decision to pursue a net zero 2050 investment strategy stands up to scrutiny.

We found that while shareholder support for Paris Agreement-compatible goals has increased, it has not prevented continuing oil and gas exploration, extraction, production or consumption, undermining the county council’s shareholder activist position, which is also not reflected in its fund manager’s view or voting. Shell and BP, in which the Devon fund has invested nearly £57 million of scheme members’ money, recently held AGMs which illustrate the point.

Warnings from climate and sustainability experts and investment analysts that emissions reductions goals will be missed have meanwhile intensified, as Devon County Council welcomes a £38 million Department for Transport road-building grant. Read the full story or join the conversation on Twitter.

SW EXETER DISTRICT HEATING NETWORK DITCHED

A plan to supply the South West Exeter development of 2500 homes with heat from the Marsh Barton waste incinerator which was announced in February this year has been abandoned because most of the property developers involved in the scheme are unwilling to accept modest additional up front costs.

Local authorities had promised £7.3 million to the project, which relied on the city’s largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions (with help from a new gas power plant) to provide what they described as “carbon emission-reducing” despite its dependency on burning rubbish and “innovative” despite two other similar existing local schemes. Read more on our website or join the conversation on Twitter.

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.

Check out our website for more Exeter psephology than you could ever want with more interactive web app controls than we could ever have imagined.

IS EXETER CITY COUNCIL GOING TO ABANDON ITS NET ZERO 2030 TARGET?

A report in March by the city’s Chief Executive said there was a high risk that the council will be unable to “deliver carbon neutral aspirations for Exeter by 2030”, citing Devon County Council’s draft plan statement that “net zero cannot be achieved by 2030”.

The review which accompanied the report suggested alignment with the Devon Carbon Plan, which is currently aimed at “a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050”, although any change in policy would require a decision by councillors.

A report on the city council’s “Net Zero Proposals” was scheduled for the Executive’s April meeting but then disappeared from the Executive forward plan before the local elections. It is now back in front of the Executive on 6 July, but will be discussed in private, with members of the public and press excluded. Read more on our website or join the conversation on Twitter.

PS The council leader’s post-election statement made only a single, passing mention of the net zero 2030 plan despite its front and centre prominence in the Exeter Labour election manifesto.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

DEVON CARBON PLAN CONSULTATION FINDS MAJORITY WANT NET ZERO BY 2030

The background to the story above. Devon Climate Emergency Response Group responded to its consultation findings by questioning whether a 2030 target is “realistic” and suggesting a “compromise position” on a decarbonisation date that “could be palatable to all of the organisations in the Devon Climate Emergency partnership”. This was despite only 13% of consultees supporting the government’s 2050 target.

STATISTICS IN THE BALANCE

An examination of Exeter City Council Chief Executive Karime Hassan’s selective use of statistics to prevent the city in flattering light while omitting important information about Exeter’s true economic and environmental position.

OTHER NEWS

MARKING THEIR OWN HOMEWORK

Exeter City Council’s ruling Labour group reallocated the city’s committee seats at its annual meeting last week. Council leader Phil Bialyk and Executive city development portfolio holder Emma Morse retained their seats on the planning committee in defiance of national guidance from the Local Government Association Planning Advisory Service, and Labour members remain in the chairs of both of the council’s scrutiny committees.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

Glenn Woodcock and Roli Martin of Global City Futures were invited to join the board which oversees the Devon Carbon Plan at its meeting last month and given the same decision-making powers as the rest of the board, which is almost exclusively composed of public sector organisations.

Top of the agenda? A presentation on “innovative approaches to financing projects being explored and trialled as part of the Exeter climate emergency plan”.

At the same meeting the DCERG decided to scrap the planned second Devon Carbon Plan public consultation, pending legal advice, which would mean no further opportunity for the public to respond to revised versions of the plan before it is adopted as policy.

ON THE AGENDA

NO ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ASSESSMENT REQUIRED

As we go to press Exeter City Council’s planning committee is about to grant the university outline application for an enormous Streatham campus redevelopment between Cowley Bridge Road and Streatham Drive.

It involves the demolition of 30 buildings to construct approximately 50,000m2 of new student accommodation, and is half as large again as the 1,200 bedroom East Park development. The city council planning officer’s report is here.

The decision will be made alongside a related application to move the university’s estate services centre to the northern edge of the campus. The officer’s report on this is here.

NEW EXETER LOCAL PLAN TIMETABLE

Next Tuesday’s city council Executive meeting will discuss the timetable for delivering the new Exeter Local Plan. An issues consultation is scheduled for this September, a draft consultation for the following September, with publication and hearings in 2023 and adoption in June 2024. The report is here and the scheme here.

This is a very ambitious timetable by typical local plan development standards and may well be blown off course by the government’s controversial planning reform bill, which was included in the Queen’s speech a fortnight ago. More developer-friendly detail on this is due from MHCLG soon.

GESP REDUX

Back in Exeter the initial local plan consultation document is due for approval on 6 July, when the city council Executive will also consider the governance, resourcing and timetable arrangements for the East Devon, Exeter, Mid Devon and Teignbridge Joint Plan before a final decision is taken on 20 July.

LIVEABLE EXETER UPDATE

An update on the Liveable Exeter programme, delayed from 1 June, is also expected at the 6 July Executive meeting.

ON OUR READING LIST

HOW TO REBUILD THE UK ECONOMY I

The Resolution Foundation last week published the launch report of its two year Economy 2030 Inquiry, a collaboration with the LSE and Nuffield Foundation. It considers the context in which the current decade began and outlines the challenges facing the country during the next ten years.

It intends to produce economic reform proposals aimed at “strong, sustainable and equitable growth” alongside “significant improvements to people’s living standards and well-being”.

Top line: “Commitments to ‘build back better’ gloss over the reality that the pandemic has made many things harder to achieve. They skate over the extent to which path dependency, rather than policy makers’ actions, shape outcomes.

“They pretend choices about the UK’s competitive strengths can ignore the reality of a world economy being shaped by China, the EU and the US. And they downplay the very real trade-offs we face as the UK adapts to meet the challenges of the 2020s, and questions of power that determine whose interests prevail.”

HOW TO REBUILD THE UK ECONOMY II

On the other side of the aisle, the Confederation of British Industry this week published its take on what the country should do during the next ten years. Seize the Moment describes six opportunities, which it claims are worth around £700 billion, as “business-led prizes that the UK could capture by 2030”. It also offers recommendations to Government on how to accelerate its plan for growth which is called - yes, you’ve guessed it - “Build Back Better”.

PSEPHOLOGY UNLIMITED

UK in a Changing Europe kicked off a week-long Spotlight on British Politics series with a panel including John Curtice, Rob Ford, James Forsyth and Paula Surridge discussing what the 2021 elections mean for our political parties and the state of the union. Warning: this video contains essential insights into the post-Brexit political landscape.

NET ZERO WITHOUT NUCLEAR?

Veteran sustainability campaigner Jonathan Porritt recently decided to revisit the case for nuclear power to assess what has changed since he last examined the sector in 2012. His personally-authored report offers a very useful primer of the arguments.

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

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Net Zero Exeter logo

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Centre for Cities Exeter City Monitor graphic

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

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Black-tailed godwits in Exe Estuary

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

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Exeter city centre from Exeter Cathedral roof

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Universities social mobility scatter chart showing University of Exeter ranking

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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.

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Job Centre Plus entrance

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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.

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