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Our top stories are a trio examining Exeter City Council decision-making and scrutiny arrangements, particularly in relation to Exeter City Living, its wholly-owned property development company.
£55 MILLION GUILDHALL SHOPPING CENTRE DECISION MAY BREACH LOCAL GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY RULES
Exeter City Council’s decision to purchase and redevelop the shopping centre may be unlawful, ineffective and subject to judicial review, increasing already significant commercial investment risks.
EXETER CITY FUTURES SECONDMENT DECISION MAY BE UNLAWFUL
Backbench city councillors were denied scrutiny call-in powers to challenge the controversial decision to send the council’s chief executive and another senior director to work for a private company.
WHY DOES EXETER CITY COUNCIL EVADE PUBLIC SCRUTINY OF EXETER CITY LIVING PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT DECISIONS?
Significant decisions concerning the council-owned company are being taken in secret despite transparency legislation and assurances given when it was created, with governance and scrutiny arrangements also potentially putting the council at risk.
UKRAINIAN REFUGEE SUPPORT HUB OPENS IN EXETER CITY CENTRE
The Conversation Café pop-up offers information, resources, events and meeting space to help cut through the confusion surrounding the Homes for Ukraine scheme and enable Devon’s response to the crisis.
COUNCIL CONSULTANTS CONFIRM 58% OF EXETER’S UNIVERSITY STUDENTS LIVE IN CITY’S RESIDENTIAL HOUSING STOCK
2021-22 university figures suggest there are now more than 4,500 student HMOs in the city, consistent with ONS findings, with the number set to surpass Exeter’s council housing provision.
COUNCIL REVEALS PLAN FOR “PODS IN EXETER’S SKY” TO BEAT CITY CONGESTION
An Exeter City Futures proposal connects key city sites with a network of Alpine-style cable cars as an alternative to further traffic improvement measures. Or does it?
Read the full story before the day is done.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
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.
NOTES & SKETCHES
WE HEART CLIMATE CRISIS
Anyone who might have been tempted to believe that the climate crisis is at the heart of everything Exeter City Council does (as it repeatedly claims) need look no further than its response to the consultation on the Devon climate assembly’s output report for clarification.
It would be too much here to point its many faults, omissions and misunderstandings, not to mention the grammatical errors which confirm that it was cobbled together at the last minute, but it should not escape notice that the council only deigned to share it with its executive committee a month after it had been submitted.
The council said its response was discussed with council leader Phil Bialyk, Net Zero Exeter portfolio holder Rachel Sutton and strategic scrutiny committee chair Barbara Denning. No worries, in that case.
NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT?
Any Exeter-based readers who fancy £144,000 a year to help the government deliver its “Levelling Up” agenda (still only a white paper) in the South West need look no further. DLUHC is advertising “an opportunity for exceptional leaders to work collaboratively with local areas and all of us across central government to drive new and innovative local policy proposals based on a real understanding of local issues and opportunities.”
You’d be expected to “drive delivery of levelling up missions through a new, closer partnership between local and central government” and would draw on existing local networks to “live, breathe and champion the places you represent while working closely with local partners, senior officials and ministers to help develop and deliver new approaches to tackling systemic, place-based challenges.”
It says five are not ambitious enough, three are too ambitious to be realistic, four don’t define what success looks like, two have too narrow a focus and one (re. R&D spending) has little to do with the aim of levelling up. Its verdict is that the government’s agenda won’t reduce regional inequality or “deliver change on the scale that is needed”. Oh, and there is little or no new money for delivery in any case.
IT’S SCRUTINY, JIM, BUT NOT AS IT SHOULD BE
The city council kicked off a quartet of scrutiny meetings intended to pave the way for councillors to give Exeter Development Fund a green light with a session on Wednesday that resembled a sales pitch.
Instead of first focussing on substantive detail, then considering risk, before assessing possible benefits and the merits of any rationale, the council has arranged the sequence of meetings the other way around.
Karime Hassan was present to make the case for the project, but the only clue as to whether he was there to represent Exeter City Futures, where he now works two days a week, or the city council, where he remains chief executive for the other three, was his reluctance to answer questions.
Not content with controlling the agenda, the council sought to determine the meeting’s outcomes in advance and even went as far as suggesting questions that councillors might like to ask.
When committee members such as Amy Sparling had the temerity to head off-piste, by asking to what extent Net Zero Exeter plan delivery will rely on the development fund, the meeting’s chair stepped in. But not before Roli Martin, also pitching for Exeter City Futures, said he had no idea.
ON THE AGENDA
NOT WHAT IT SAYS ON THE TIN
Devon County Council’s approach to keeping the public in the dark about Devon Carbon Plan production continues with its invitation to the public to “have a say on the Devon Carbon Plan” (which was echoed by Exeter City Council in turn).
Instead of making clear that the current (and final) consultation is actually only about the narrow subset of questions (complete with suppressed premises) to which it invited the Devon Climate Assembly to respond, it recently invited residents “to give their views on the Devon Carbon Plan before it gets published this summer”.
This follows its decision to scrap the planned public consultation on the draft plan altogether.
Those who nevertheless wish to take part have until 14 April to respond to a choice of short or full-length questionnaires. There’s a handy 48 page PDF which also glosses over various other ways in which the public has been excluded from the plan development process.
RIFF ON ROAD
Another Devon County Council active travel consultation is also under way, this time concerning a segregated cycle route instead of the substandard line-painting approach the local transport authority has recently followed elsewhere in Exeter.
It will run along Rifford Road, which connects Burnthouse Lane with Honiton Road at the foot of East Wonford Hill, and will link the two ends of the E12 North-South cycle route.
The online consultation runs until 22 April, and there is also an opportunity to air your views in person at a drop-in session next Thursday 7 April from 10am-12pm at Wonford Community Centre. County transport officers will on hand to field reactions to the loss of seventeen car parking spaces that the scheme entails.
ON OUR READING LIST
THE BLEAKEST ASSESSMENT YET OF CLIMATE CHANGE RISK
The message could hardly be clearer. The report’s authors said: “Targeting a climate resilient, sustainable world involves fundamental changes to how society functions including changes to underlying values, world-views, ideologies, social structures, political and economic systems and power relationships.”
IPCC chair Hoesung Lee said: “This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction. Half measures are no longer an option.” And working group co-chair Debra Roberts added: “Tackling all these different challenges involves everyone – governments, the private sector, civil society – working together to prioritise risk reduction, as well as equity and justice, in decision-making and investment.”
ISN’T GLOBAL BRITAIN LEADING THE WAY?
Not according to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. It says: “The government has unveiled a plan without answers to the key questions of how it will fund the transition to net zero, including how it will deliver policy on and replace income from taxes such as fuel duty, or even a general direction of travel on levies and taxation.
“The government has no reliable estimate of what the process of implementing the net zero policy is actually likely to cost British consumers, households, businesses and government itself. It has much more work to do to understand the emissions impact of international supply chains, including the risk of domestic emissions being only window dressing if these are merely shifting emissions offshore to other countries.”
LOCAL ELECTIONS ARE COMING
As the pre-election period begins in Exeter, the Electoral Reform Society had made a bracing intervention on the parlous state of local government in England, which it says “remains one of the most centralised nations in Europe as measured by the local control of resources and over-dependence on Whitehall decision making.”
A remarkable table taken from a House of Commons Library research briefing captures striking contrasts with our European neighbours. While there is one local councillor in France for every 130 people, in England the ratio is one to 3,300.
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