The exeter digest

Exeter Digest #6: Liveable Exeter Place Board double bill - Scrutiny under scrutiny - Catastrophic climate change or cake?

In the sixth edition of our newsletter we review key stories from the past few weeks, get some perspective on our predicament and find some unlikely claims on a local Labour leaflet.

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LIVEABLE EXETER PLACE BOARD DOUBLE BILL

Both top stories in this edition of The Exeter Digest follow an Exeter Observer investigation of Liveable Exeter Place Board, the unelected and unaccountable body that meets in private, does not publish its discussions or decisions and is taking responsibility for major policies which will determine Exeter’s future.

“CHUMOCRACY” OVERSEES THE CITY

The first focusses on the secretive, informal way in which board members are selected and appointed. Freedom of information requests have revealed a “chumocracy” redolent of the current Conservative government’s approach to appointments and procurement despite Exeter City Council’s claim to be “committed to openness and transparency”.

Read more on our website or join the conversation on Twitter.

OUTSOURCED EXETER LOCAL GOVERNMENT

The second examines the board’s role, reach and potential impact. We have gathered evidence which shows that, notwithstanding Exeter City Council’s claims to the contrary, the board 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.

Read the full story or join the conversation on Twitter.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

HARLEQUINS DEVELOPER PLANS SECOND “CO-LIVING” BLOCK INSTEAD OF HOTEL

Exeter City Council approved plans to redevelop Harlequins shopping centre last year despite vehement opposition from residents, campaigners and conservation charities.

Since receiving formal consent for the scheme the developer has submitted a revised application to return to an earlier, rejected, vision for the site which will replace the planned hotel with a second “co-living” block.

A revised economic impact assessment now discounts the scheme’s claimed benefits and observers remain convinced the co-living blocks are student accommodation in all but name.

COMMUNITY ARTS CENTRE DESPITE CITYPOINT REDEVELOPMENT THREAT

Parts of Exeter city centre are experiencing an unplanned renaissance as small shops and cultural venues fill empty units on Paris Street and Sidwell Street, but the council still intends to demolish and redevelop the area, with outline plans framed around massive build to rent blocks, hotels, offices and a brand new civic centre for itself.

Positive Light Projects has nevertheless transformed a disused building on Sidwell Street into artist studios, gallery space, a photography studio, offices and meeting space for local groups.

OTHER NEWS

SOUND FAMILIAR?

A Centre for Governance and Scrutiny report into Nottingham City Council’s “superficial and inadequate” scrutiny mechanisms has been published following a public interest report by auditor Grant Thornton which accused the council of “institutional blindness” over poor financial decision-making which led to it borrowing £35 million from the government to avoid collapse.

The CfGS report (item five) places some of the blame on a political culture where any public challenge is seen as “disloyalty”.

IT’S GRIM DOWN SOUTH WEST …

Recent synthesis of economic data by Devon County Council makes for gloomy reading. Before the pandemic began 39% of children across the county were part of working families claiming tax credits (3% higher than the national average) with even more in some areas (43% in North Devon and 44% in Torridge), while average pay for the lowest 20% of earners fell between 2019 and 2020, a period during which it rose nationally.

Exeter fared worst among Devon districts, with a 14% fall, at the same time as house prices rose by 18% and rents increased by more than twice as much as in the rest of the country.

As the pandemic has eased, the county has continued to struggle, with high housing costs, low wages and the “staycation” boom prompting landlords to cash in on short term lets among factors causing significant local labour shortages. Meanwhile high street vacancy rates remain above the national average in many areas, including Exeter city centre.

… BUT WE’RE ALL IN IT TOGETHER

Last Friday the UN released a report assessing the combined climate action plans of all 191 parties to the Paris Agreement which found that they point towards a catastrophic 2.7°C temperature rise by the end of the century.

Not only that. Instead of a 45% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2010 levels by 2030, necessary to limit the temperature rise to 1.5°C according to the IPCC sixth assessment report published last month, current Paris Agreement signatory plans put us on course for a 16% increase by that date.

Meanwhile, back in post-Brexit blighty, an analysis of how UK broadcasters are exposing audiences to climate change found that the word “cake” was used ten times more often than the phrase “climate change” on UK TV in 2020.

NO JOKE

Our thanks to a reader of Exeter Digest #5, who pointed out that use of the toilets included in Exeter’s new, apparently “state of the art” bus station, is not free of charge. He told us he found that users have to spend more than a penny whichever way they pay.

ON THE AGENDA

NEW EXETER LOCAL PLAN

Exeter City Council began the process of lining up its spatial development aspiration ducks this week by opening the first of several consultations on the new Exeter Local Plan. We are asked to consider and comment on an Issues consultation document ( here with officer report here) and a new Statement of Community Involvement (document here and officer report here).

The first outlines the key issues the new local plan is intended to address, and is presented alongside the “Exeter 2040 Vision” and “Liveable Exeter” property development scheme. The second outlines the ways in which the public, organisations and “other interested parties” are involved in city planning processes.

Both will be amended following the consultation and brought back for approval by council members before being used as a basis on which a formal draft Exeter Local Plan will be produced next year.

The current consultation runs until 15 November, and includes two public exhibitions: Thursday 30 September at Exeter Central Library and Wednesday 13 October at the Guildhall, both 1-7pm. Hard copies of the consultation documents can also be viewed during opening hours at the Civic Centre on Paris Street and at Exeter Central Library.

The new Local Development Scheme, which sets out the local plan preparation timetable is here.

HEAVITREE & WHIPTON LOW TRAFFIC NEIGHBOURHOOD

The second phase of public consultation on Devon County Council’s plans to reduce traffic volumes in Heavitree and Whipton (although not, of course, on the arterial routes which run through them). The first phase, which informed the options on offer in phase two, took place at the end of last year: a response summary is available here.

The current survey can be completed online until 7 October. “Measures which receive the most public support are expected to form part of a trial later this year.”

QUEEN STREET & IRON BRIDGE ROAD LAYOUT CHANGES

Another county highways consultation, this one on making permanent the temporary traffic restriction changes on Queen Street and Iron Bridge that were introduced earlier this year. Respondents are asked to comment on three options as well as make additional suggestions.

The online survey closes on 13 October. “If a permanent change were supported, Traffic Regulation Orders would then need to be advertised and consulted on, with a final decision on progressing any permanent change to be made by elected councillors at a future committee meeting.”

LABOUR UNLIMITED

Thanks also to another reader, who sent us a local Labour party leaflet which was delivered through their door complete with some rather surprising claims. One in particular stood out. Under the heading: “Across Exeter your Labour councillors have achieved” it said: “Reaching net zero carbon by 2030”.

Unless a casual slice of grammar butchery, or an act of radical historical revisionism, it must surely mark a new peak in heroic Exeter Labour confidence, presenting the city’s future as a fait accompli. Perhaps the planned “innovation district” has got off to a flying start by producing a Team Labour time machine?

ON OUR READING LIST

CCN GOES COP26

A report published last week by the County Council Network (which represents county and unitary authorities in England) unsurprisingly concluded that the government has been too city-focused in its climate action to date and must provide more funding and support to reduce emissions in county areas.

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS

The Social Market Foundation published related research two days before, ranking the impact of the prospective net zero transition across local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales in the form of an opportunity/risk index.

As assessment criteria included proximity to the nearest decarbonising industrial cluster Exeter came in at a less than world-class 168th position (out of 363 local authorities surveyed).

The Midlands, North West, Wales and the North East all ranked highly, reflecting the opportunities when both problems and potential problem solvers are in the same place. PDF here.

TIME TO STEP UP

A two year collaboration between the Resolution Foundation and the LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance got under way back in May with its launch report: The UK’s decisive decade.

The project aims to frame the economic challenges faced by the UK during the 2020s and come up with policy recommendations to help address the combined impact of COVID-19, Brexit, decarbonisation, an ageing population and rapid technological change against a backdrop of persistently low productivity and high inequality.

Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the project is being overseen by high profile commissioners including Adam Tooze, Dani Rodrik and Nicholas Stern. A “national conversation” is promised, driven by a stream of publications and public events. Launch report PDF here.

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