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DECISION TO SEND COUNCIL CEO AND DIRECTOR TO WORK FOR EXETER CITY FUTURES IS “DISSERVICE TO CITIZENS”
The city council has disregarded governance, risk and conflict of interest issues despite multiple cross-party challenges and conflated the decarbonisation agenda with a property development financing scheme.
INDIVIDUAL OVERSEAS OWNERSHIP OF EXETER PROPERTY TRIPLES IN TEN YEARS
The rise of more than 350% is greater than in Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster, increasing Exeter housing costs, reducing home ownership levels and harming housing affordability.
EXETER DECARBONISATION PLANS FOUND WANTING IN NATIONWIDE COUNCIL CLIMATE ACTION PLAN STUDY
Somerset West and Taunton was the highest scoring local authority area with East Devon in third place nationally in a comprehensive Climate Emergency UK analysis.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
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.
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.
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.
NOTES & SKETCHES
NOT SUCH AN HONOURABLE MENTION for Cranbrook in a recent Transport for New Homes report examining new housing developments across England to find out whether they are built around sustainable transport or car dependency.
It found that the walkability that was supposed to be at the core of Cranbrook’s claimed sustainability has not come to fruition and residents have no option other than to use a car to access many amenities.
Despite Devon County Council, the local transport authority and bus services commissioner, driving the development forward, researchers found a road that was too narrow for buses to reach a new bus stop. They also found that the much-vaunted railway station, which is more than 550 metres from the nearest housing, is not connected to the main development by bus.
Transport for New Homes classifies Cranbrook as a “cowpat” development: new housing dropped on fields, built separately from the existing urban area to which it is not connected by continuous streets.
HAS THE COUNTY COUNCIL LEARNED ITS LESSON? Judging by the “ample space” for greenfield business park and housing development promoted in the “Clean Growth Vision for the West of East Devon” it commissioned from City Science Corporation (an Exeter City Futures sister company) for submission to the East Devon Local Plan consultation, it seems not.
Worryingly, Devon Council Council says the document “provides the next level of detail beneath the Devon Carbon Plan” and expects it to “inspire other areas to create similar plans”. Get your complimentary Kool-Aid here then consider what this sort of thinking would mean for the new Exeter Local Plan.
IN OTHER URBAN SPRAWL NEWS a development of up to 80 residential dwellings on a ten acre greenfield site alongside Exwick Lane has been given the go ahead at appeal. The city council refused the development in May last year on the grounds it would have a harmful visual impact on the Redhills ridgeline.
The planning inspector rejected the council’s decision, concluding that the development would comply with the council’s planning policies. He said his judgement was not affected by the argument that it might provide a precedent for ridgeline development in other parts of Exeter.
This did not deter the council leader, Phil Bialyk, from insisting that “Exeter protects the vital green ridge surrounding the city” in his budget speech on Tuesday.
ON THE AGENDA
PART II OF THE BOUNDARY COMMISSION CONSULTATION began on Tuesday. Feedback on the proposed new parliamentary constituencies can be submitted until 4 April 2022 via the commission website, where the existing Exeter and East Devon constituency boundaries and the proposed changes are mapped alongside comments on the proposals.
See Exeter Digest #5 for a summary of the Priory vs Pinhoe argument which led to the city council proposing to sacrifice the latter to an East Devon Conservative MP.
Public hearings covering the whole South West region are planned in Exeter from 10am to 8pm on 21 March and 9am to 5pm on 22 March. They will take place at the Guildhall. Recordings and transcripts of the hearings will be made available afterwards.
DEVOLUTION FOR DEVON? The prospect of county-level devolution has been entangled with the government’s “Levelling Up” agenda ever since the latter appeared in the Conservative Party’s 2019 general election manifesto.
Multiple announcements, swirling rumours and contentious early moves to replace two-tier arrangements with unitary authorities in rural counties, particularly Somerset, have created considerable confusion around the policy.
In Devon, overlapping bids were separately submitted by Plymouth City Council in partnership with West Devon and South Hams (see also their Joint Local Plan) and Devon County Council, which intends to take Plymouth & Co. under its wing. The Plymouth-led bid apparently surprised County Hall.
Whether either bid would need to include a directly-elected Mayor has been unclear. Meanwhile leaked documents suggested the abolition of district councils (including Exeter City Council) might be on the cards too.
The delayed “Levelling Up” white paper, published earlier this month, finally laid out the government’s (provisional) criteria for county deals. County council leader John Hart last week confirmed Devon would be pursuing a “level two” bid focussed on transport, skills and housing without requiring a county-wide Mayor. Negotiations with central government continue.
ON OUR READING LIST
THE “LEVELLING UP” WHITE PAPER itself is not so much a challenge to read, at 332 pages plus regional breakdown plus technical annex, but it does pose a dilemma for potential readers: is it worth the attention?
Given the criticism it has received it remains to be seen how much influence it will have on the ground, especially in the South West, which is far from the “red wall” on which the document’s political logic turns. Exeter appears just twice: the maths school and the “Exeter M5 Growth Corridor” each get a one-line mention.
On the same day the white paper was published, the National Audit Office released a report panning the DLUHC’s performance around local growth policies and funding. It found the “evidence base for effective interventions is limited. The [DLUHC] therefore lacks evidence on whether the billions of pounds of public funding it has awarded to local bodies in the past for supporting local growth have had the impact intended. And it has wasted opportunities to learn which initiatives and interventions are most effective.”
The Institute for Fiscal Studies also queried whether the government understands how to deliver the big picture targets which headline the white paper (and whether it even intends to try). Director Paul Johnson said they look “extremely ambitious - that is to say highly unlikely to be met, even with the best policies and much resource. There is little detail on how most of them will be met, and less detail on available funding. There is something for everyone, and hence little sense of prioritisation: ambition and resource will be spread very thin.”
Bristol North West MP Darren Jones, who chairs the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, compared the white paper’s headline “missions” with the now-defunct UK Industrial Strategy, and concluded the former had largely been cribbed from the latter. Other parts of the document were apparently copied from Wikipedia. Your mileage may vary.
RATHER MORE RELEVANT TO EXETER is auditor Grant Thornton’s Report in the Public Interest on Croydon Council’s failed Brick by Brick development company. It identifies “serious corporate and governance failings” and “significant concerns regarding the decision making, value for money, behaviour and governance arrangements”, concluding that the council “failed to ensure it was acting lawfully”.
It also said “the lack of properly executed written legal arrangements covering the provision of funding to Brick by Brick is in our view a very serious matter and demonstrates fundamental failings by the council.” The report has been handed to the police who are considering a criminal investigation.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST everyone involved in UK public life should be paying attention to Edelman’s 2022 Trust Barometer, the company’s 22nd annual trust and credibility survey.
It found that trust in government fell thirteen points, to just 29%, in the three months to the end of January this year alone, with only 15% now believing that the UK’s political system works in their favour. Only 31% think voting influences those in power, and a majority feel powerless to effect change.
Nearly 60% think that politicians are more likely to lie or mislead compared to a year ago, up seven points, and two thirds think that they are undermining democracy through their actions. City and county councillors are on the hook too: trust in local government has declined at the same rate as trust in Whitehall.
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