Welcome to The Exeter Digest, Exeter Observer’s essential free email newsletter. Thanks for subscribing.
We’ve been asked for more frequent updates, so from now on we’re going to send brief email notifications whenever we publish new content in addition to our longer newsletters which we’ll continue to publish every few weeks.
Feedback is welcome: please feel free to reply to this email or otherwise get in touch with any comments or suggestions you may have.
UNIVERSITY DROPS ENVIRONMENTAL STANDARDS WITH COUNCIL APPROVAL
A follow up on our coverage of the university’s application to demolish 30 buildings to construct ~50,000m2 of new student accommodation on a fifteen acre Streatham site.
The university describes the project as “an opportunity to develop an exemplar of environmentally sustainable buildings” but both it and the city council have dropped their published policy commitments to minimum construction standards for the development, which will mean an extra 1,250 student bedrooms on the north west corner of the campus.
Both organisations make lofty claims about world-leading climate ambitions but it appears neither plan to practice what they preach on the ground.
Exeter Observer reader Anne Barnes responded to the story on Twitter: “This article should be read by anyone who is concerned about whether the University of Exeter and Exeter City Council are really committed to addressing ALL aspects of the environmental impact of development on the campus. Talking a good talk is not the same as doing the right thing.”
EXE VALLEY GREEN SPACES AND HERITAGE HARBOUR SITE UNDER THREAT
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.
Bonhay Meadows, New Haven Field and the site of Exe Water Sports Association and the Ride On bicycle recycling project are all in the sights of the city council’s “Liveable Exeter” development scheme.
KINDER EXETER FESTIVAL BRINGS COMPASSION AND COLOUR TO CITY CENTRE
For her first story she covered a community festival facilitated by artists’ collective Maketank which brought artists, academics, students and other Exeter folk together for online and COVID-safe outdoor events in city centre green spaces. The story is here and tweet here.
ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST DEFIANT AFTER SECOND LIABILITY ORDER FOR NON-PAYMENT OF COUNCIL TAX
Jenna’s second story: a lone parent from Crediton who has withheld council tax for two years in protest over government climate crisis inaction was in front of magistrates at Exeter Law Courts last week while Extinction Rebellion demonstrated in support outside.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
DOES DCC’S NET ZERO INVESTMENT STRATEGY STAND UP TO SCRUTINY?
While fossil fuel company shareholder activism around Paris Agreement-compatible goals has increased, it has not prevented continuing oil and gas exploration, extraction, production or consumption. Shell and BP, in which Devon’s public sector pension fund has invested nearly £57 million of scheme members’ money, recently held AGMs which illustrate the point.
DISTRICT HEATING NETWORK GOES UP IN SMOKE
A plan to supply the South West Exeter development of 2500 homes with heat from the Marsh Barton waste incinerator 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.
INFORMATION WANTS TO BE FREE
This time last month Open Democracy won its three year legal battle with the Cabinet Office over its secretive “Clearing House”, which has been accused of obstructing the release of material under the Freedom of Information Act and “blacklisting” journalists and campaigners.
Judge Chris Hughes found that there was a “profound lack of transparency about the operation” and criticised the Cabinet Office for a “lacuna in public information” around the way the Clearing House co-ordinates Freedom of Information request responses. The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs select committee has now launched an inquiry into how the Clearing House handles requests and whether its measures comply with the Freedom of Information Act.
LONGBROOK STREET PBSA GIFTED SECOND LIFE
Exeter City Council planning officers approved the renewal of planning permission for an eight storey 108-bed student accommodation block on the site of the King Billy public house which had previously been granted in April 2018 and since lapsed.
The plans include provision for street level retail despite the developers of the monolithic student block on Cheeke Street known as “The Depot” seeking to convert several of its ground floor retail units to student bedrooms because commercial tenants cannot be found for the shops. Look out for the Longbrook Street developers pleading the same case in due course.
ON THE BEACH
The Heart Of The South West Local Enterprise Partnership confirmed that its bid to house the UK Atomic Energy Authority STEP fusion test reactor in Bridgewater Bay passed the first stage of the competitive site nominations process. The government’s long list of fifteen sites is now being whittled down in Whitehall. Don’t all rush at once: the project’s initial aim is not to produce a concept design until 2024.
PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENT OF THE WEEK
In a hotly-contested field, this week’s winner must surely be the new Exeter Civic University Agreement, which found its way onto last night’s city council Executive agenda. Laced with the language of estate agency, this document envisages a utopian future for the city with the rest of the UK following behind. Here’s the rousing peroration:
“The university and its anchor city partners, as signatories of this Civic University Agreement, are committed to working together to help overcome the major social, economic and environmental challenges that we all face, together for Exeter. We are bound by the partnership framework set out in this document to seek to improve levels of prosperity, equal opportunity, sustainability, health and wellbeing for Exeter’s citizens, families and communities.”
Helpfully the doc includes photos of the four signatories so you’ll know who to look out for at the next garden party.
ON THE AGENDA
UP THE JUNCTION
Devon County Council’s consultation on proposals for the Union Road section of the E4 cycle route, including Stoke Hill roundabout, closes next Tuesday 13 July. This section of the route, which will eventually connect Exeter Science Park with St David’s station, has put cyclists in danger for many years. Check out the plans and have your say via the online survey, but not until you’ve read Exeter Cycling Campaign’s insightful consultation response.
ASSETS FOR ALL?
Exeter City Council is consulting on its proposed community asset transfer policy, which is intended to enable it to respond more effectively to future requests for asset transfers to community organisations. This is the process which was used to transfer ownership of the city’s valley parks to Devon Wildlife Trust. The draft policy is here and the online consultation is here.
WHO SAYS PUBLIC SERVICE DOESN’T PAY?
Exeter City Council’s Executive has recommended that Rachel Lyons be granted the position of Honorary Alderman of the City, alongside Olwen Foggin and Lesley Robson, when the council meets on 21 July.
Exeter City Council celebrated its high crime rate [Surely “Home Office Safer Streets Fund award”? Ed.] by publishing a snap of council leader Phil Bialyk hobnobbing with Devon & Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez down at Exeter Quay.
The image filename was “tackling crime”, although we’re not sure who is committing the offence in the picture. This uncertainty has prompted us to seek the help of our readers.
What’s going in this evocative shot? Who is saying what to whom? Should we be calling in Ted Hastings and his team? Send us your suggestions: the best caption will win a mystery prize!
ON OUR READING LIST
WHITE PAPER WHITE FLAG
It appears the government is backing down on its controversial proposed planning reforms following its loss in the Chesham & Amersham by-election. In a speech to the Local Government Association earlier this week, communities secretary Robert Jenrick indicated that he was no longer intending the pursue the radical changes promised in last year’s white paper.
He said he wanted to see “sensible and pragmatic reforms” but did not think the government needed “to rip up the planning system and start again”. The Housing, Communities and Local Government select committee report considering the plans offers useful analysis for those who want to know more. The government is expected to publish its proposals next month.
HOW GREEN IS MY INDUSTRIAL VALLEY?
Centre-right think tank Onward published a report assessing the labour market challenges entailed by the UK’s decarbonisation plans this week. It says 3.2 million people will need to retrain or increase their skill levels, with the construction sector affected most of all. It also examines regional exposure to the required changes: the South West is less vulnerable than many areas because of its relatively low levels of carbon-intensive industries. But this means that there are fewer economic opportunities in carbon mitigation activity here too.
One striking finding from the report is that while 1.1 million workers will be required to retrofit homes and decarbonise domestic heating by 2030, only 5,700 are currently being trained to do these jobs each year.
The Public Interest News Foundation yesterday published the first survey of the UK’s independent news publishing sector. Research carried out by Clare Cook and Dr Coral Milburn-Curtis of the Media Innovation Studio at the University of Central Lancashire found that the reach of the sector far outstrips its revenue: the 56 survey respondents reached 10 million monthly unique users last year but their combined revenues were less than £5.4 million.
In contrast Reach, the UK’s largest commercial publisher and the company which dominates Devon’s news media, reached an average of 42.1 million users per month in 2020 with revenue of just over £600 million.
- The trust gap between the news in general and that found in aggregated environments has grown, with audiences seemingly placing a greater premium on accurate and reliable news sources.
- Facebook is seen as the main channel for spreading false information almost everywhere.
- In the UK, despite audiences relying on search engines and social media for information on jobs, “things to do”, weather forecasts and even COVID-19, they still think of newspapers as the best destination for local politics.
- In the UK both left and right feel that their political views are unfairly covered by the media.
HELP POWER THE PUBLIC INTEREST JOURNALISM EXETER NEEDS
Exeter Observer is produced and published by people like you who share a mission to strengthen civil society and help people participate more effectively in local democracy.
Our capacity to hold wealth, power and the influence of individuals and institutions to account depends on having sufficient resources to investigate their actions and challenge them in the public sphere.
When you join Exeter Observer you don’t just become an active supporter of the public interest journalism that Exeter needs, you become co-owner of a new kind of editorially and financially independent community news organisation.
We believe good quality local public interest journalism can only be delivered by a non-profit business model which doesn’t invade the privacy of its audience, facilitate the spread of fake news or rely on advertorial, clickbait or recycled press releases.
With your support we can deliver in-depth articles and investigative journalism that is critically engaged with major challenges facing our city around democracy, development and the climate crisis while amplifying local voices and reflecting our community and cultural life.
Together we can power the independent journalism Exeter needs: with public interest at its heart.