2024 community share offer
2024 community share offer

THE EXETER DIGEST

Exeter Digest #12: Local elections special

Our twelfth newsletter also covers Devon Carbon Plan procrastination, hot air on the buses, county council transport insights and the continuing Exeter Development Fund scrutiny saga.

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DO EXETER LABOUR ELECTION CAMPAIGN CLAIMS STAND UP TO SCRUTINY?

This special edition of Exeter Digest on the eve of the 2022 local elections leads with a series examining Exeter Labour’s election campaign claims.

PART I: EXETER’S HOUSING CRISIS

The first part of the series examines Exeter Labour campaign claims related to the housing crisis overtaking the city.

It debunks the party’s claims around housing delivery, publicly-funded developments on council land and the provision of affordable housing, and outlines the impact of university expansion on Exeter’s residential housing stock.

Read the full story or comment and share.

PART II: ECONOMY & CITY CENTRE

The second part examines the party’s claims about the city centre and Exeter’s wider economy, including its misrepresentation of content marketing materials as authoritative sources of information about the city.

Read the full story or comment and share.

PART III: CLIMATE & ENVIRONMENT

The third part examines the party’s claims about climate crisis leadership, renewable energy, recycling, retrofitting and development standards as well as decisions to scrap council and city decarbonisation goals.

Read the full story or comment and share.

CODA: COUNCIL TAX

The last part of the series is a coda examining Exeter Labour’s claim that the city has one of the lowest rates of council tax in the country.

Read the full story or comment and share.

MORE ELECTION STORIES

2022 LOCAL ELECTIONS GUIDE

An insider’s guide highlighting who’s standing where, wards to watch and what the results might look like and mean. It also outlines the context in which these elections are taking place and explains when, where and how to vote.

Read the full story or comment and share.

LOW ATTENDANCE LEVELS AMONG SOME COUNCILLORS MEAN EXETER ELECTORS GET VARYING VALUE FOR THEIR VOTES

Our assessment of the past year’s attendance figures for public council meetings as a measure of councillor commitment to their constituents.

Read the full story or comment and share.

EXETER CITY COUNCIL ABANDONS CITY 2030 DECARBONISATION “AMBITION”

An unannounced decision to exclude scope 3 emissions from Exeter’s net zero plans effectively ensures the city will not meet its decarbonisation goals, putting Exeter Labour claims about climate crisis leadership into context.

Read the full story or comment and share.

ELECTIONS RESULTS & MORE

As last year Exeter Observer is running a rolling results service complete with graphical analysis of vote shares and swings as the winners and losers are announced on the night.

Follow us @exeterobserver to stay in the loop from 10pm on Thursday and look out for our snap election results analysis the day after.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

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.

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 number set to surpass Exeter’s council housing provision.

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.

UKRAINIAN REFUGEE SUPPORT HUB OPENS IN EXETER CITY CENTRE

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.

£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.

NOTES & SKETCHES

LEADERLESS BY DESIGN?

Devon County Council’s plan to delay taking action on decarbonisation, otherwise known as the Devon Carbon Plan, continues to achieve its aim as (bear with us) the county council cabinet responds to its consultation on its response to the Devon Climate Assembly’s responses to the subset of Interim Devon Carbon Plan issues it has successfully avoided confronting.

County Hall has so far spent three years talking with other regional stakeholders instead of taking necessary actions of which many only it, as the county’s transport authority, is capable.

Its latest contribution to the process is to agree that winds farms “can be part of providing Devon’s energy needs”, that the county “needs better active and public transport infrastructure” which “should be more affordable and convenient” and that “much more must be done to support people to upgrade the energy efficiency of their homes and businesses”.

Anyone wondering how it has taken the county council three years to grasp these insights need only look at the Devon Carbon Plan’s slippery delivery timetable.

When the county council convened the Devon Climate Emergency Response Group in April 2019 it said it would “act now to tackle [the] climate emergency”, before scheduling the completed Devon Carbon Plan for adoption by November the following year.

Postponement has since followed postponement, as well as a decision to scrap the planned principal public consultation, apparently made to speed up the process.

Last month’s update: “We remain on schedule to have the Devon Carbon Plan available for organisations to consider adopting from the end of August 2022”.

BUSES STOP

Exeter’s Labour county councillors successfully lobbied County Hall to convene an unscheduled meeting of the Exeter Highways and Traffic Orders Committee (HaTOC) three weeks ago to discuss the state of bus services in the city.

The “emergency bus crisis hearing”, as it was described by Exeter Labour, confirmed that the party remains outside the room on local transport policy, but it nevertheless got plenty of local media coverage during the pre-election period.

MORE TALK LESS ACTION

The county council has derived more surprising new insights from the second phase of a consultation on the impact of traffic in Heavitree and Whipton.

Cabinet member Stuart Hughes, who is responsible for highway management, said it had shown “that people feel that traffic does impact on their local neighbourhood.”

A council press release summarised the consultation’s findings as “traffic has a negative effect on the attractiveness of the area, walking and cycling is not given priority over cars and other traffic [and] parking significantly contributes to pollution.”

It’s only eighteen months since the first phase of the consultation began. The county council’s next steps? Convene another meeting of Exeter HaTOC to talk about the results.

BROWNFIELD OR GREEN?

In Exeter Digest #11 we reported on the first of four “scrutiny” meetings being orchestrated by the city council to air Exeter City Futures’ ideas about using Exeter as an urban guinea pig for its development fund project.

At last week’s second meeting it was Frazer Osment’s turn to play the ringer. His firm LDA Design is responsible for the sketches that currently constitute the published Liveable Exeter “vision”, as he said.

He nevertheless omitted to mention that it is also in partnership with Global City Futures, Exeter City Futures’ parent company, at West Exe Business Park, a 60-acre greenfield development on the edge of the city.

The “eco-friendly” development’s first major announcement was the construction of a roundabout to improve site access from the A379.

The Exeter City Futures sales pitch continued at the meeting despite the company still not providing the documents on which their proposals are based. Councillors from across the political spectrum understandably voiced their displeasure at being told instead of shown.

The company first said the Cabinet Office wouldn’t let them release the documents, then said that it wanted to sell the idea to stakeholders before letting anyone else see the details, then came up with the pre-election period as their excuse for non-disclosure - apparently a council suggestion.

Meanwhile a freedom of information request submitted by Exeter Observer for the documents fifteen weeks ago has yielded similar results. Next stop: the Information Commissioner.

ON OUR RADAR

We are exploring extending our coverage to include curated community and culture events. Here’s a selection: feedback welcome.

SUNDAY 8 MAY // TRADITIONAL ITALIAN MUSIC AND DANCE

La Tarantella and the Italian Cultural Association are holding a workshop exploring the folk traditions of Southern Italy in music, dance and song.

SATURDAY 14 MAY // EXETER PRIDE

Exeter Pride returns for an in-person celebration of LGBTQIA+ diversity and visibility after moving online in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

SATURDAY 11 & SUNDAY 12 JUNE // EXETER RESPECT FESTIVAL

Exeter Respect Festival returns to Belmont Park for its 25th anniversary with live music and performance, food stalls, campaigners and community groups.

ON OUR READING LIST

DEMOCRATIC DEFICIENCY

An IPPR analysis drawing on YouGov polling co-commissioned with the Electoral Reform Society and Unlock Democracy has found that the electorate now commonly views donors to political parties and big businesses as the main drivers of government policy while just 6% of UK voters think they have the most powerful influence on government.

Other key findings include that people living in the least deprived neighbourhoods are 70% more likely to say “democracy addresses their interests well” than people living in the most deprived neighbourhoods, and four times as many people believe “more decisions should be made by devolved and local governments” than those who believe Westminster should have more power.

AS HONEST AS THE TERM IS LONG

UCL’s Constitution Unit has published a report on the first “deliberative exercise to have explored UK public opinion towards democracy in depth”, the Citizens’ Assembly on Democracy in the UK.

The assembly produced eight broad resolutions summing up its conclusions, sixteen core principles that it thought would characterise good UK democracy and 51 detailed recommendations on how to deliver its vision.

The recommendations with the broadest support among assembly members concerned integrity in public life. 98% backed a recommendation that “lying or intentionally misleading parliament” should be punishable.

A precursor survey that sampled almost 6,500 people asked them what they viewed as the most important characteristics for politicians. Being honest and owning up to mistakes came top.

FOIA YOU

The House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has published its latest report on the infamous Cabinet Office “clearing house” set up to circumvent transparency laws and block freedom of information requests from journalists.

The committee found “evidence of poor FOI administration in the Cabinet Office and across government which appears to be inconsistent with the spirit and principles of the FOIA” and “evidence which questions the processes currently being undertaken within government for determining public interest decisions” as well as “concerns about political involvement” in what is supposed to be a statutory information request process.

Committee chair William Wragg added: “As FOI policy owner and coordinating department the Cabinet Office should be championing transparency across government, but its substandard FOI handling and failure to provide basic information about the working of the coordinating body has had the opposite effect.”

The report’s recommendations include an audit of the Cabinet Office freedom of information “clearing house” to “reassure the public that the government’s approach to freedom of information requests is compliant with the Freedom of Information Act”.

Meanwhile Reporters Without Borders has published its 2022 World Press Freedom Index. The UK is 24th in the table

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