THE EXETER DIGEST

Exeter Digest #9: Pennsylvania petitioners - Devon Pension Fund - University social mobility - Harlequins fate sealed

Our ninth newsletter is a bumper edition providing plenty of independent public interest journalism to keep you company on long midwinter evenings.

Exeter cathedral  Cycling & walking  Devon county council  Public consultation  Exeter transport strategy 

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TOP STORIES

PENNSYLVANIA PETITIONERS EXPOSE FIFTEEN YEARS OF FLAWED STUDENT ACCOMMODATION POLICY-MAKING

A long read which examines the growth of university student numbers and its impact on residential housing in the city alongside Exeter City Council’s flawed attempts to use planning policy to mitigate that impact.

Our analysis finds that while the number of students has soared, the council’s policies have failed to prevent mass student occupation of residential housing stock, despite the proliferation of Purpose Built Student Accommodation, and now co-living too.

We also find that the council’s responses to a petition presented by Pennsylvania residents aimed at protecting them from the encroachment of student landlords in their area are the latest in a long line of council reports which rely on faulty premises, inaccurate information and miscalculated projections and which have repeatedly misrepresented the situation but nevertheless provided the basis on which student accommodation policy has been made.

Read the full story or comment and share.

COUNTY COUNCIL DOUBLES DOWN ON PENSION FUND DIVESTMENT POSITION

Devon Pension Fund remains committed to fossil fuel investment despite an increasingly untenable county council position that relies on unfounded shareholder influence claims and a failure to understand the sector’s position and plans. Read the full story or comment and share.

UNIVERSITY OF EXETER RANKED BOTTOM OF RUSSELL GROUP AND 103RD OVERALL IN SOCIAL MOBILITY LEAGUE TABLE

A landmark study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, The Sutton Trust and the Department for Education has found that University of Exeter undergraduates are less likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those that do are less likely to be high earners. Read the full story or comment and share.

EXETER CITY COUNCIL APPROVES SECOND HARLEQUINS “CO-LIVING” BLOCK, SEALING FATE OF PAUL STREET

A previously rejected vision will now form the basis of an “abysmal” and “poorly thought through” Liveable Exeter development of 383 “units of accommodation” with an increased proportion of substandard studios but reduced economic value to the city. Read the full story or comment and share.

500 MARCH IN RECLAIM THE NIGHT PROTEST AGAINST SEXUAL VIOLENCE AND HARASSMENT ON EXETER STREETS

An annual event promoting public awareness of male violence against women and girls in public spaces took place in Exeter on 25 November.

FIRST St Thomas WINTER MARKET BRINGS FESTIVAL FEEL TO “OVERLOOKED” AREA OF EXETER

A new community-run event at St Thomas’ Church combined artisan traders with music, storytelling and craft workshops to create a family-friendly festival atmosphere while supporting fledgling local traders.

EXE ESTUARY WILDLIFE REFUGES SUCCEED IN INCREASING BIRD NUMBERS

A three year monitoring study has confirmed that the introduction of protected spaces has resulted in greater numbers of wildfowl using internationally important sites at Dawlish Warren and Exmouth. New contributor Louise Stinchcombe’s first story for Exeter Observer.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

GREENS CALL FOR EVIDENCE-BASED EXETER CARBON BUDGET AS CITY COUNCIL CLINGS TO NET ZERO RHETORIC

A “forensic analysis on the gulf between the simplistic rhetoric and unrealisable goals of Exeter City Council and Exeter City Futures on the one hand, and the complex realities of securing decarbonisation on the other”.

IF YOU THINK ELECTRIC VEHICLES ARE THE ANSWER, YOU’RE ASKING THE WRONG QUESTION

Mike Walton of Exeter Cycling Campaign says we shouldn’t be seduced by the motoring lobby into believing that electric cars can create the future we and our children need.

NOTES & SKETCHES

NET ZERO EXETER 2030?

Research by University of Exeter students has concluded that local councils need to provide clearer and more accessible information on how they are addressing the climate emergency.

The study, published by the Environmental Law Foundation, found that without councils doing so there is a risk that “local climate emergency declarations become worthless political statements, and the opportunity for effective action will be missed”.

Researchers from eight universities and members of the UK Environmental Law Association examined local authority climate emergency declarations and used freedom of information legislation to assess whether councils across the UK had developed clearly defined decarbonisation plans, with milestones and monitoring for emissions reduction targets.

A team from the University of Exeter examined South West local authorities, among which only one was able to confirm its plans for emissions reduction by scope. It wasn’t Exeter City Council.

MUST TRY HARDER

The university recently let us know that its carbon emissions were down 19% during the 2020-21 academic year, although as the reductions came mostly from travel that didn’t take place because of the COVID-19 pandemic we look forward to seeing how it will frame what will presumably therefore be an emissions increase next year.

Meanwhile the 2021 People & Planet university rankings placed the university in 16th position nationally for its ethical and environmental performance. Not too shabby, but not quite the table-topping performance promised by the university’s Green Futures PR.

MONEY FOR NOTHING

The Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) closed its consultation on draft changes to the Prudential Code last month, following a preliminary consultation earlier this year. The code governs how much councils can borrow to invest and what forms of commercial activity they are permitted to pursue.

The Local Government Association’s response to the changes reflected “concern” among some local authorities that their borrowing-based spending power might be curtailed. However it appears that two thirds of consultation respondents supported the proposed new wording without amendment.

No wonder Exeter City Council recently rushed through a decision, taken in private, to create a £55 million property purchase budget without giving the legally-required notice.

DEVOLUTION DOUBLESPEAK?

Devon is apparently at the front of the pack for a Michael Gove-flavoured “double” devolution deal despite a competing bid led by Plymouth City Council (which wants to combine with the adjacent West Devon and South Hams district councils), next to no guidance on what is on offer from Whitehall, and even less public discussion about the prospect of local government changes across the county.

With options being discussed including the replacement of the two tier district/county authority system with a single tier and a directly elected Mayor, it’s about time County Hall came clean about its plans. DLUHC’s “Levelling Up” white paper, postponed until January, is expected to announced Devon is in the first wave of deals.

For those being kept in the dark, which is most of us, the Institute for Government has published a useful county devolution deals explainer as well as a report examining the issues. PDF here.

DEMOCRACY INACTION

Meanwhile the poor record of the county council-led Devon Climate Emergency Response Group on keeping the public informed about what it is up to reached a new low this month, when it simultaneously published the minutes of ten meetings on the same day, some from as long ago as August.

Despite being almost entirely comprised of the representatives of public bodies, and being led by a top tier local authority, Devon Climate Emergency Response Group does not publish its agendas in advance and holds its meetings in private.

Its minutes, which it would be charitable to describe as minimal, refer only indirectly to major issues, thus keeping decisions such as the date that has been set for Devon decarbonisation from the public. And it has now decided to scrap the planned public consultation on the draft Devon Carbon Plan altogether.

KEEP IT IN THE FAMILY

Earlier this year the University of Exeter drew attention to the South West’s significant social mobility issues, which it described as “blighting young lives”, when it launched a research project hoping to better understand the region’s challenges.

The South West, which includes pockets of significant rural and urban disadvantage, has some of the largest attainment gaps in the country at the end of primary school, as well as the lowest rate of higher education access for disadvantaged children.

The project lead, Lee Elliot Major, holds one of two university seats on Liveable Exeter Place Board, an unelected de facto decision-making and local governance body that meets in private, does not publish its discussions or decisions and exercises public functions with the potential to affect everyone who lives and works in Exeter.

He sits alongside Lisa Roberts, current university Vice-Chancellor and CEO, while Steve Smith, former university Vice-Chancellor chairs the board. Steve Smith also chairs the social mobility research project advisory board, presumably following the “key role” he played in a “high profile advisory group aimed at improving social mobility within the higher education sector” that Universities UK convened back in 2016.

ON THE AGENDA

TORCH SONG

Plans to rebuild the burnt out Royal Clarence hotel as luxury apartments with a restaurant and bar on the ground floor are being shopped by the scheme’s developers, who are inviting feedback until 22 December before submitting an application for planning permission early next year.

As discussions with the city council have been going on behind the scenes for more than a year, the scope for public consultation at this stage must be limited. That’s what the developers are calling it, nevertheless.

FIDDLING IN THE MARGINS

Devon County Council is inviting responses to its plans to widen pavements and install zebra crossings in Alphington which it says will help mitigate the impact of traffic from the planned South West Exeter development. The development will include 2,500 new homes, a school for 1400 pupils, shops and a 60 acre business park.

As Exeter Cycling Campaign politely puts it: “We fear their proposals lack ambition and won’t deliver on these stated aims.” The deadline for responses is 31 January.

ON OUR READING LIST

A fascinating research project led by Jean-Francois Mercure, Associate Professor in Climate Policy at the University of Exeter and a research fellow at the University of Cambridge, has priced the risks associated not only with the carbon embedded in traditional capital assets over their expected lifespans, but also with the disruption to human resources that become more likely the longer the transition to a low carbon economy is postponed.

It found that a significant proportion of total investment is tied up in things that provide returns over decades, including people, and that carbon reduction policies could require near-complete scrapping of all long-lived carbon intensive capital in the economy over the next 30 years.

One arresting conclusion: for the UK to reach net zero by 2050, nearly £11 trillion in planned returns on investment (equivalent to 35% of the size of the UK economy) may need to be written off before then. And that’s if comprehensive action begins next year. With every year’s delay, the bill balloons. A journal article is forthcoming.

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