The exeter digest

Exeter Digest #7: CityPoint pop-ups reprieve - When is a PBSA not a PBSA? - Greta tells it like it is

In our seventh newsletter we review recent key stories, round up the news in brief and highlight think tank ideas for "community-powered conservatism" and how to deliver for real housing need.

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TOP STORIES

CITYPOINT POP-UPS REPRIEVE

An unplanned renaissance in Exeter city centre is being driven by short-lease tenants in repurposed retail units vacated as a result of the failed Princesshay II scheme.

Revamped council plans for the area bounded by Paris Street, Sidwell Street, Cheeke Street and the old bus station nevertheless threaten the futures of artistic and cultural initiatives and independent local businesses that have spring up during a prolonged redevelopment hiatus.

Council leader Phil Bialyk now says the council’s first priority is to build a new “civic hub” on the Bampfylde Street car park, and that it will be “some years” before anything happens on the rest of the site, whose tenants the council “would want” to accommodate “should they wish to remain”.

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

WHEN IS A PBSA NOT A PBSA?

Apparently when it’s the basis of an Exeter City Council planning decision to scrap the affordable housing requirement for the Clifton Hill sports centre redevelopment.

Council-owned and financed developer Exeter City Living has cited an unpublished report which values the council-owned Clifton Hill site for student housing, despite a previous council decision ruling out this use, in seeking to overturn last year’s decision to require affordable housing there.

Having received a council loan of nearly £16 million to buy and develop the site on the basis it would make a 20% profit, Exeter City Living now claims that the development is no longer financially viable if the affordable housing requirement remains.

It nevertheless says that a government grant may be available to cover the cost of building the flats for social rent, a proviso which the council’s planning committee accepted at its Monday meeting despite its decision paving the way for other developers to dodge affordable housing provision.

Read the full story or join the conversation on Twitter.

GRETA TELLS IT LIKE IT IS

An interview with activist Greta Thunberg on the eve of the COP26 summit in which she calls on world leaders to be honest in confronting the climate crisis, published in partnership with Covering Climate Now.

Since then it seems HM QE II has chimed in in support of Greta’s “all talk, no action” criticism.

Read the interview here.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

“CHUMOCRACY” OVERSEEING THE CITY

The first of two stories following 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.

Normal practice for appointments to a body with a remit as significant as that of Liveable Exeter Place Board would be to advertise widely and make transparent choices on the basis of objective assessment of candidates. No such process applies to Liveable Exeter Place Board appointments, nor has it ever.

Instead, board members are selected and appointed in secret, in a way that is 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”.

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.

OTHER NEWS

EXETER CITY COUNCIL SCRAPS OWN “UNACHIEVABLE” CARBON EMISSIONS TARGET

In an extraordinary reversal, the city council removed the goal of achieving carbon neutral operations by 2022 from its corporate risk register at a recent Audit & Governance committee meeting.

The reason? Not only was the goal deemed “unachievable”, it seems the council hadn’t actually passed a resolution to achieve it in the first place.

So what was it doing on the risk register, where it’s been since November 2019? It seems the council has been confusing energy policy with decarbonisation.

Let’s hope the planned “net zero delivery team” won’t be prone to such schoolboy errors when it finally comes on stream in March next year.

By then it will have been more than three years since the council declared a climate emergency: let’s hope the team comes equipped with a dictionary, too.

MAY THE FORCE BE WITH UNESCO

Torbay and Exeter’s joint UK city of culture bid, said to be inspired by the “closely connected coastal and city destinations” despite Brixham and Exeter being an hour and a half apart by public transport, didn’t make it onto the longlist of eight places which have caught the eye of culture vulture and escapee celebrity Nadine Dorries.

Bested by Armagh, Bradford and Wrexham, among others, Exeter City Council nevertheless sees “many positives .. on which exciting plans can be implemented” coming out of the bid.

LESS IS MORE

The University of Exeter published its long-awaited “Strategy 2030” at the beginning of the month. It’s a remarkable document, not least because of the Nobel-sized aspirations it expresses.

Apparently the university plans to “lead meaningful action against the climate emergency and ecological crisis” while making “key breakthroughs” which will “transform human health and well-being”. It also hopes to “lead the progress towards creating a fair, socially just and inclusive society”.

The scope and scale of its vision is commendable, but the document seems a little light on the detail of how it might achieve these Herculean tasks. Despite record high scores in the game of buzzword bingo, at just over 2,000 words it is only a little longer than this newsletter.

ON THE AGENDA

NEW EXETER LOCAL PLAN

The first among several consultations to come on the new Exeter Local Plan continues until 15 November.

Out for consideration and comment are 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 new Local Development Scheme, which sets out the local plan preparation timetable, is here.

ON OUR READING LIST

BEYOND THE BIG SOCIETY?

Michael Gove, recently reshuffled to a new post as communities secretary, has thrown his support behind a devolution model outlined in a pamphlet published by the New Local think tank in partnership with The New Social Covenant Unit.

“Trusting the People: the case for community-powered conservatism”, by ten Conservative MPs from the 2019 intake, makes a case for “community power as the future of the party”.

It claims to explore “how to level up the country” through what it calls a “double devolution to councils and communities” while calling for “businesses to act like citizens” via reform of the Companies Act and “an end to top-down funding decisions”.

The report champions the “Wigan Deal”, which saved the borough council £115 million over ten years by encouraging residents to “take more responsibility” for public services themselves.

While it’s not clear whether the Treasury will embrace the ideas contained in the report, the UK is among the most centralised mature democracies in the world, so there is plenty of interest here, not least because some of the pamphlet’s policies would look at home in the Labour manifesto.

PDF here.

HOUSING FOR PEOPLE

Meanwhile, as Exeter’s housing crisis reaches fever pitch, think tank Localis weighs in with some timely ideas on planning for community need rather than developer profit.

In the wake of the government’s controversial “Planning for the Future” white paper, it presents a case for a “stewarded model of land and housing delivery”.

It emphasises state funding for affordable, mixed-tenure and sustainable housebuilding, community value charters intended to provide a transparent picture of how procurement around development benefits local economies, and more community engagement in design codes, protection of community assets and planning policy- and decision-making.

The government is expected to announce its intentions for the delayed planning reform bill as part of the spending review which is due on 26 October.

PDF here

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