ANALYSIS  ⁄  PLANNING & PLACE

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.

EXETER CITY COUNCIL   LIVEABLE EXETER   EXETER CITY LIVING   BONHAY MEADOWS   EXETER CANAL AND QUAY TRUST   RIVERSIDE VALLEY PARK   EXETER CIVIC SOCIETY  

Exeter Civic Society and the progressive group of Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent city councillors have raised the alarm at the prospect of development on green spaces beside the River Exe and a heritage harbour site in the city’s historic canal basin.

Exeter City Council is considering developing sites at Bonhay Meadows, the canal basin and in the heart of Riverside Valley Park as part of its “Liveable Exeter” property development scheme while claiming that the scheme “will protect and enhance Exeter’s exceptional natural and historic environment, safeguard its iconic landscape setting and encourage high-quality design that complements and enhances the city’s heritage.”

It first emerged that the council was considering these developments when council leader Phil Bialyk listed what he described as “a pipeline of future development opportunities for the council to consider as part of a five year development programme” in a committee meeting last year.

Diana Moore, Green Party councillor for St. David’s ward, in which all three sites are located, then confirmed the council’s intent at a meeting in April.

She said: “In response to questions I asked at a council meeting, the Labour leader of the city council failed to provide assurance that valuable green spaces in the city – vital for wildlife and biodiversity – would be safe from future development.

“He confirmed that Bonhay Meadows is being considered as a development site and refused to rule out development on the green space between the river and Exeter Ship Canal.”

Bonhay Meadows Liveable Exeter development site Bonhay Meadows Liveable Exeter development site

Exeter Civic Society said it was “appalled to discover that Exeter City Council is considering building homes on the city’s green spaces” and is “likely to rigorously oppose building” on all three sites.

Keith Lewis, acting chair of the society, has written to Phil Bialyk to express his concern that the proposals were not highlighted in May’s local elections manifestos and that no consultation concerning them had taken place with local communities.

He said: “It seems that there has been no dialogue with local councillors, let alone with the communities in which [the development sites] are located.

“The society is concerned that the city council will present the public with a fait accompli rather than undertaking genuine community consultation in line with government guidelines.”

“This reinforces the council’s disregard for genuine public consultation.”

Addressing the council leader directly, he said: “I urge you to publish development proposals for all the sites identified in your paper last year to get public opinion before spending too much on research and architects fees”, adding: “What do you have to hide?”

Bonhay Meadows Liveable Exeter development site entrance via flood defence scheme gate No.6 Bonhay Meadows Liveable Exeter development site entrance via flood defence scheme gate No.6

Bonhay Meadows, which is described as “accessible amenity green space” by the city council, has been identified as a prospective site for 97 dwellings which would be built by Exeter City Living Ltd, the city council’s property development company.

It is a 1.6 acre grass and wildflower meadow bordered by mature trees which lies on the east bank of the river, north of the Exe Bridges crossing.

It is located on the river side of the flood defence scheme wall which has been constructed to protect existing buildings nearby. Exeter City Living was described as “in dialogue” with the Environment Agency over this issue.

At the April meeting at which Phil Bialyk defended the council’s approach he said: “Exeter City Living, the development arm of the city council, is examining, and will continue to examine, the suitability of land for development in accordance with the vision for Liveable Exeter - including sites such as Bonhay Meadows.”

He added: “We are not ruling anything out, nor should we.”

Exeter Ship Canal Liveable Exeter development site location plan

Exeter Ship Canal basin Liveable Exeter development site location plan.
Image: Canal Basin masterplan.

The site identified for development at the canal basin currently houses Exe Water Sports Association and the Ride On bicycle recycling project. Around 50 build-to-rent dwellings would take their place, also constructed by Exeter City Living Ltd.

These proposals are consistent with the Canal Basin masterplan, which says: “The existing buildings do not make sufficient contribution to the character of the conservation area to warrant retention. The quality of the townscape may be improved by sensitive re-development.”

It adds: “Contemporary architecture that is clearly respectful of its context is required” and identifies historic elements for retention in any redevelopment, including the wall which runs along Haven Road, which originally enclosed the basin, and a locally listed gateway and piers which must be retained and incorporated into any design for the site.

It specifies that “two storey residential scale buildings are required” on the site beside 60 Haven Road, which is a Grade II listed building which previously part-housed Exeter Maritime Museum and, more recently, the Boatyard Bakery. It also says that “three to three and a half storey residential scale buildings are required” on the rest of the site.

It is not clear how the council intends to fit 50 dwellings onto the site given these planning policy restrictions.

Exeter Ship Canal Liveable Exeter development site illustrative elevations

Exeter Ship Canal Liveable Exeter development site illustrative elevations.
Image: Canal Basin masterplan.

There have been calls for the canal basin masterplan to be updated, both because of its age - it was adopted as planning policy seventeen years ago, in July 2004 - and because it does not specify that the uses of buildings in the area must be waterway-related.

Six years ago Exeter Civic Society set up a River, Canal and Quayside sub-committee which subsequently published a report focussed on the future of the quay and the canal basin area.

It said: “One of its qualities is that it is relaxed and not crassly and commercially over-exploited. We want to see this quality preserved while its distinctive heritage, tourist, arts and educational potential is sensitively developed.”

Exeter Ship Canal Liveable Exeter development site Exeter Ship Canal Liveable Exeter development site

Then in 2016 the Friends of Exeter Ship Canal was established with support from the civic society and went on to develop a close relationship with the Inland Waterways Association.

This led to last year’s heritage harbour status award to the Port of Exeter, the first such award in the south west.

The Friends of Exeter Ship Canal also published a report in which it outlined considerations which were necessary if the canal – and particularly the canal basin – was to become more than an environment shaped by the demands of investment finance.

It called for better promotion of the canal, new slipways, residential moorings, canal holidays and development of heritage and maritime activities in the canal basin. It did not call for new housing development.

Exeter Ship Canal Liveable Exeter development site listed wall, gateway and piers at Exe Water Sports Association Exeter Ship Canal Liveable Exeter development site listed wall, gateway and piers at Exe Water Sports Association

Following the heritage harbour award, the Inland Waterways Association and Friends of Exeter Ship Canal also jointly published a new vision and action plan for the canal.

John Monks of Friends of the Exeter Ship Canal said: “The city council and [quay and canal] trust are both enthusiastic about the Heritage Harbour designation the Friends achieved for the canal and basin as integral parts of the Port of Exeter.

“To get the most from it depends on their seeing it not so much as a status flag but as a stimulus to work together on creating the maritime heritage revival that is at the heart of every heritage harbour.”

Unsurprisingly, the action plan also does not propose housing development in the canal basin.

Keith Lewis of Exeter Civic Society said: “The heritage harbour status obtained by the Friends of Exeter Ship Canal should now require the council to think again about what should be done around the basin and canal if that initiative is to be a success.

“The existing basin masterplan has not been fit for purpose for some time now and should not be used to justify building a large number of homes there.”

New Haven Field in Exeter's Riverside Valley Park New Haven Field in Exeter’s Riverside Valley Park

The third site threatened by the Liveable Exeter property development scheme is in Exeter’s Riverside Valley Park between the ship canal and the river, a short walk from the canal basin.

It is a 2.4 acre grass meadow known as New Haven Field which is bordered by mature hedgerows and trees and tucked between Trews Weir allotments and Bromhams Playing Fields.

It is described as “accessible natural green space” by the city council.

Details about development plans for this site remain unclear, but it appears to be mentioned in a county council transport infrastructure implementation report which describes a “new crossing of the canal in Haven Banks linked to development”.

New Haven Field is only a short distance from the railway station being built beside the Marsh Barton waste incinerator.

Diana Moore said: “Important and much loved green and wooded spaces run along the river and canal - that’s precisely why they are recognised in the Exeter valley parks strategy.

“These spaces need protection and nurturing. The opportunities lie in planting trees and helping nature - not putting a development price tag on them.”

New Haven Field in Exeter's Riverside Valley Park New Haven Field in Exeter’s Riverside Valley Park

Having previously planned to sell part of Bull Meadow Park and all of Northbrook Approach golf course for housing development, the city council changed course after community campaigns to save both green spaces.

Phil Bialyk subsequently said, in the run up to this year’s local elections: “Where we can we will protect open and green spaces. We have still got to deliver housing - that’s where our Liveable Exeter programme comes in and it is very important.

“But I want us to save green spaces and keep them for our children and grandchildren to enjoy. We have done all lot already - protecting Bull Meadow and Northbrook.”

Independent councillor Jemima Moore recently highlighted that a community campaign had, in fact, helped save the Northbrook site.

She said: “As so often in Exeter, it was a community campaign that helped secure the Northbrook for nature and wildlife. We need to see the Labour-led council do more to identify and protect in perpetuity the city’s crucial green spaces.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Kevin Mitchell added: “The almost universal support for a wildlife-focussed future for the Northbrook site demonstrates how Exeter residents value green spaces and trees, and see these as vital for wildlife, recreation and health.

“They also need to be aware, however, that the city’s green spaces aren’t guaranteed protection under Labour.”


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

Recent stories
Exeter City Futures Exeter Development Fund presentation slide

Exeter Development Fund: rent extraction, unaffordable housing and gentrification, but not net zero

E3 cycle route Chard Road modal filter

Exeter cycling & walking strategy five years late and counting

Liveable Exeter community engagement with council development director Ian Collinson

Property development promotion as community planning participation

Exeter Article 4 Direction area July 2011 map

St. James HMO conversion refusal overturned at appeal

Stagecoach app showing Exeter bus service delays and cancellations

Bus back better? Exeter services expected to remain unfit for purpose without needed changes


Help power our public interest journalism

More Analysis
Stagecoach app showing Exeter bus service delays and cancellations

TRANSPORT & MOBILITY

Bus back better? Exeter services expected to remain unfit for purpose without needed changes

Government underfunding and bus sector challenges limit scope for improvement but county council failure to upgrade routes and policy ambitions plus high housing costs make Exeter difficulties acute, undermining net zero aspirations.

Exeter City Futures website - vision & mission summary

CLIMATE & ENVIRONMENT

University emissions study confirms Net Zero Exeter plan redundancy

Council retains Exeter City Futures' services despite history of delivery failures and lack of capacity to support defined decarbonisation targets.

Greenhouse gas protocol for cities - sources and boundaries of city greenhouse gas emissions (scale)

CLIMATE & ENVIRONMENT

Exeter greenhouse gas report disregards hundreds of thousands of tonnes of annual city emissions

Restricted scope of study misrepresents scale of city's impact to produce partial decarbonisation targets while ignoring opportunities to reduce emissions imported by residents, businesses and visitors, guaranteeing net zero failure.

All Analysis
News
Exeter Article 4 Direction area July 2011 map

PLANNING & PLACE

St. James HMO conversion refusal overturned at appeal

Council failed to provide sufficient evidence to support 2012 planning policy introduced to limit impact of student occupation of residential housing stock.

Monkerton masterplan map

PLANNING & PLACE

Progressive Group planning enforcement proposal adopted despite public Labour rejection

Newly-published register also reveals council has issued as many planning enforcement notices in the past three months as it has in the past three years.

Exeter Statement of Community Involvement cover

PLANNING & PLACE

Council rejects calls for greater community involvement in Exeter planning policy and decisions

Council defends existing approach despite Statement of Community Involvement consultation producing just 17 responses, and won't do more to promote neighbourhood planning despite prospect of enhanced community powers.

All News
Comment
Exeter City Futures Exeter Development Fund presentation slide

PLANNING & PLACE

Exeter Development Fund: rent extraction, unaffordable housing and gentrification, but not net zero

Exeter City Futures' private debt-driven Liveable Exeter property development financing scheme is under fire from councillors who say it is based on insufficiently-evidenced assumptions and won't meet Exeter's housing needs.

E3 cycle route Chard Road modal filter

TRANSPORT & MOBILITY

Exeter cycling & walking strategy five years late and counting

County council soft-pedalling on infrastructure plan which city council says will not form part of new Exeter Local Plan despite Department for Transport guidance.

Liveable Exeter community engagement with council development director Ian Collinson

PLANNING & PLACE

Property development promotion as community planning participation

If the Liveable Exeter property development scheme and its Exeter Development Fund financing vehicle are already intended to "anchor and underpin" the new Exeter Local Plan, what will public consultation on the plan decide?

All Comment
The Exeter Digest

Exeter Digest #15: Bus back better? - Net zero redundancy - Development fund under fire

Our bumper holiday newsletter also covers a St. James' HMO appeal, planning enforcement changes, scope 3 emissions failure, cycling and walking strategy delays and property development promotion as community planning participation.

Exeter Digest #14: Exeter beset - Alphington impacts - Magdalen Road - Community involvement?

Our essential newsletter also covers continuing Exeter Development Fund scrutiny, missing meetings minutes from Exeter City Futures and Devon Climate Emergency Response Group, Liveable Exeter confusion and local design code reforms.

Exeter Digest #13: Flowerpot Playing Fields under threat - Scrutiny circumvention continues - Kidical Mass rides into town

Our thirteenth newsletter also covers city council spending on Instagram influencers, museum-fronted property development promotion, reports on local democracy and the role of councils in climate action and a government inquiry into the sustainability of local journalism.

All Exeter Digest
On the agenda
New Exeter Local Plan

New Exeter Local Plan draft consultation

A consultation on the draft version of the new Exeter Local Plan, which will guide development in the city until 2040, is taking place this autumn.

All topics

ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY   AFFORDABILITY AFFORDABILITY AFFORDABILITY   AIR QUALITY AIR QUALITY AIR QUALITY   ALPHINGTON & COWICK ALPHINGTON & COWICK ALPHINGTON & COWICK   ALPHINGTON ALPHINGTON ALPHINGTON   BONHAY MEADOWS BONHAY MEADOWS BONHAY MEADOWS   CLIFTON HILL SPORTS CENTRE CLIFTON HILL SPORTS CENTRE CLIFTON HILL SPORTS CENTRE   COP26 COP26 COP26   COVID-19 COVID-19 COVID-19   CITYPOINT CITYPOINT CITYPOINT   CLIFTON HILL SPORTS CENTRE CLIFTON HILL SPORTS CENTRE CLIFTON HILL SPORTS CENTRE   CLIMATE CRISIS CLIMATE CRISIS CLIMATE CRISIS   CO-LIVING CO-LIVING CO-LIVING   CONGESTION CONGESTION CONGESTION   COUNCIL TAX COUNCIL TAX COUNCIL TAX   CROWN ESTATE CROWN ESTATE CROWN ESTATE   CYCLING & WALKING CYCLING & WALKING CYCLING & WALKING   DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT   DEVON & CORNWALL POLICE & CRIME COMMISSIONER DEVON & CORNWALL POLICE & CRIME COMMISSIONER DEVON & CORNWALL POLICE & CRIME COMMISSIONER   DEVON CARBON PLAN DEVON CARBON PLAN DEVON CARBON PLAN   DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL   DEVON PENSION FUND DEVON PENSION FUND DEVON PENSION FUND   DURYARD & ST. JAMES DURYARD & ST. JAMES DURYARD & ST. JAMES   EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL   EXETER AIRPORT EXETER AIRPORT EXETER AIRPORT   EXETER CANAL AND QUAY TRUST EXETER CANAL AND QUAY TRUST EXETER CANAL AND QUAY TRUST   EXETER CATHEDRAL EXETER CATHEDRAL EXETER CATHEDRAL   EXETER CITY COUNCIL EXETER CITY COUNCIL EXETER CITY COUNCIL   EXETER CITY FUTURES EXETER CITY FUTURES EXETER CITY FUTURES   EXETER CITY LIVING EXETER CITY LIVING EXETER CITY LIVING   EXETER CIVIC SOCIETY EXETER CIVIC SOCIETY EXETER CIVIC SOCIETY   EXETER COLLEGE EXETER COLLEGE EXETER COLLEGE   EXETER CULTURE EXETER CULTURE EXETER CULTURE   EXETER DEVELOPMENT FUND EXETER DEVELOPMENT FUND EXETER DEVELOPMENT FUND   EXETER EXTINCTION REBELLION EXETER EXTINCTION REBELLION EXETER EXTINCTION REBELLION   EXETER LIVE BETTER EXETER LIVE BETTER EXETER LIVE BETTER   EXETER LOCAL PLAN EXETER LOCAL PLAN EXETER LOCAL PLAN   EXETER PHOENIX EXETER PHOENIX EXETER PHOENIX   EXETER PRIDE EXETER PRIDE EXETER PRIDE   EXETER SCIENCE PARK EXETER SCIENCE PARK EXETER SCIENCE PARK   EXETER ST. DAVID'S EXETER ST. DAVID'S EXETER ST. DAVID'S   EXETER TRANSPORT STRATEGY EXETER TRANSPORT STRATEGY EXETER TRANSPORT STRATEGY   EXETER CITY CENTRE EXETER CITY CENTRE EXETER CITY CENTRE   EXWICK EXWICK EXWICK   FREEDOM OF INFORMATION FREEDOM OF INFORMATION FREEDOM OF INFORMATION   FRIDAYS FOR FUTURE EXETER FRIDAYS FOR FUTURE EXETER FRIDAYS FOR FUTURE EXETER   GENERAL ELECTIONS GENERAL ELECTIONS GENERAL ELECTIONS   GUILDHALL GUILDHALL GUILDHALL   HARLEQUINS HARLEQUINS HARLEQUINS   HEART OF THE SOUTH WEST LEP HEART OF THE SOUTH WEST LEP HEART OF THE SOUTH WEST LEP   HEAVITREE & WHIPTON BARTON HEAVITREE & WHIPTON BARTON HEAVITREE & WHIPTON BARTON   HEAVITREE HEAVITREE HEAVITREE   HOUSES IN MULTIPLE OCCUPATION HOUSES IN MULTIPLE OCCUPATION HOUSES IN MULTIPLE OCCUPATION   HOUSING HOUSING HOUSING   LGBTQIA+ LGBTQIA+ LGBTQIA+   LIVEABLE EXETER PLACE BOARD LIVEABLE EXETER PLACE BOARD LIVEABLE EXETER PLACE BOARD   LIVEABLE EXETER LIVEABLE EXETER LIVEABLE EXETER   LOCAL INDUSTRIAL STRATEGY LOCAL INDUSTRIAL STRATEGY LOCAL INDUSTRIAL STRATEGY   LOCAL ELECTIONS LOCAL ELECTIONS LOCAL ELECTIONS   MAKETANK MAKETANK MAKETANK   MARSH BARTON MARSH BARTON MARSH BARTON   MET OFFICE MET OFFICE MET OFFICE   MID DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL MID DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL MID DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL   MINCINGLAKE & WHIPTON MINCINGLAKE & WHIPTON MINCINGLAKE & WHIPTON   NET ZERO EXETER NET ZERO EXETER NET ZERO EXETER   NEWTOWN & ST. LEONARD'S NEWTOWN & ST. LEONARD'S NEWTOWN & ST. LEONARD'S   NORTHERNHAY GARDENS NORTHERNHAY GARDENS NORTHERNHAY GARDENS   OXYGEN HOUSE OXYGEN HOUSE OXYGEN HOUSE   PARIS STREET PARIS STREET PARIS STREET   PARKING PARKING PARKING   PENINSULA TRANSPORT PENINSULA TRANSPORT PENINSULA TRANSPORT   PENNSYLVANIA PENNSYLVANIA PENNSYLVANIA   PINHOE PINHOE PINHOE   PLANNING POLICY PLANNING POLICY PLANNING POLICY   PRINCESSHAY PRINCESSHAY PRINCESSHAY   PRIORY PRIORY PRIORY   PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT   PUBLIC CONSULTATION PUBLIC CONSULTATION PUBLIC CONSULTATION   PUBLIC HEALTH PUBLIC HEALTH PUBLIC HEALTH   PUBLIC REALM PUBLIC REALM PUBLIC REALM   PUBLIC TRANSPORT PUBLIC TRANSPORT PUBLIC TRANSPORT   PURPOSE BUILT STUDENT ACCOMMODATION PURPOSE BUILT STUDENT ACCOMMODATION PURPOSE BUILT STUDENT ACCOMMODATION   RAMM RAMM RAMM   REFUSE & RECYCLING REFUSE & RECYCLING REFUSE & RECYCLING   RETROFIT RETROFIT RETROFIT   RIVERSIDE VALLEY PARK RIVERSIDE VALLEY PARK RIVERSIDE VALLEY PARK   ROYAL DEVON & EXETER NHS TRUST ROYAL DEVON & EXETER NHS TRUST ROYAL DEVON & EXETER NHS TRUST   SIDWELL STREET SIDWELL STREET SIDWELL STREET   SOUTH WEST EXETER EXTENSION SOUTH WEST EXETER EXTENSION SOUTH WEST EXETER EXTENSION   SOUTH WEST WATER SOUTH WEST WATER SOUTH WEST WATER   SOUTHERNHAY SOUTHERNHAY SOUTHERNHAY   SPORT ENGLAND LOCAL DELIVERY PILOT SPORT ENGLAND LOCAL DELIVERY PILOT SPORT ENGLAND LOCAL DELIVERY PILOT   ST. DAVID'S & HAVEN BANKS ST. DAVID'S & HAVEN BANKS ST. DAVID'S & HAVEN BANKS   ST. DAVID'S ST. DAVID'S ST. DAVID'S   ST. LOYE'S ST. LOYE'S ST. LOYE'S   ST. SIDWELL'S COMMUNITY CENTRE ST. SIDWELL'S COMMUNITY CENTRE ST. SIDWELL'S COMMUNITY CENTRE   ST. SIDWELL'S POINT ST. SIDWELL'S POINT ST. SIDWELL'S POINT   ST. THOMAS ST. THOMAS ST. THOMAS   STAGECOACH SOUTH WEST STAGECOACH SOUTH WEST STAGECOACH SOUTH WEST   TEIGNBRIDGE DISTRICT COUNCIL TEIGNBRIDGE DISTRICT COUNCIL TEIGNBRIDGE DISTRICT COUNCIL   TOPSHAM TOPSHAM TOPSHAM   UNIVERSITY OF EXETER UNIVERSITY OF EXETER UNIVERSITY OF EXETER  

More stories