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WILL EXETER COLLEGE FENCE OFF EXWICK COMMUNITY PLAYING FIELDS?
Exeter College redevelopment plans at Exwick and Flowerpot Playing Fields threaten a three metre fence around public-accessible playing fields and their replacement with artificial turf. Will it change course after widespread objections?
LABOUR COUNCILLORS APPOINTED TO ALL FOURTEEN CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEE CHAIRS AT ANNUAL MEETING
Council leader falsely claims “overwhelming majority” voted Labour in Exeter local elections while circumvention of council decision-making scrutiny continues.
GREENS TAKE THREE SEATS FROM LABOUR SO PROGRESSIVE GROUP REPLACES CONSERVATIVES AS OFFICIAL OPPOSITION
Conservative loss in Topsham among significant vote share changes in 2022 Exeter City Council elections suggesting city’s political landscape in flux.
KIDICAL MASS EXETER: “THE BEST DAY EVER”
300 people took part in the first Kidical Mass Exeter family bike ride on Sunday 15 May as part of a global campaign for safe cycling routes for children, young people and families.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Exeter Digest #12 was a 2022 local elections special. We highlighted a four-part series examining Exeter Labour’s campaign claims, an assessment of last year’s councillor attendance at public council meetings and an insider’s guide to the poll.
EXETER’S HOUSING CRISIS: The first part in our series examined Exeter Labour campaign claims related to the housing crisis overtaking the city.
ECONOMY & CITY CENTRE: Part two examined the party’s claims about the city centre and Exeter’s wider economy.
CLIMATE & ENVIRONMENT: Part three examined 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.
COUNCIL TAX: The final part of the series was a coda examining Exeter Labour’s claim that the city has one of the lowest rates of council tax in the country.
NOTES & SKETCHES
HOW TO INFLATE HOUSING COSTS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE
Despite Exeter’s rapidly worsening housing crisis, the council continued its relentless promotion of the city as a destination to potential incomers by commissioning a coterie of Instagram influencers to flog the place to their followers after spending a May weekend here.
Go South West England, Candace Abroad and Flying Fluskey (no kidding) duly produced various “journalism-style articles” discussing the city’s “culture and history” as part of a £10,000 marketing campaign, the cost of which is being split 50/50 between the council and GWR on the basis it promotes visiting Exeter by train.
One influencer said St Sidwell’s Point leisure centre had been built on the site of a recently-demolished bus station and described Jury’s Inn as both a “4-star” and “mid-range” hotel, before offering helpful detail on how to get to each by car and where to park.
Another encouraged visitors to “hop in a car” in the city centre to get to Dartmoor, or to drive to a Crediton cider orchard, and advised readers that of Exeter’s “three main shopping centres, all based around the High Street”, one is to be found at Countess Wear.
Perhaps it is unfair to expect council-commissioned communications to adhere to recognised fact-checking standards, but whether this expenditure meets public spending value for money criteria is another matter.
Meanwhile cider must be on the menu in council meetings, judging by a year-long project it has commissioned in conjunction with the university which “explores the complex ecology and cultures of cider-making” and “communal drinking culture”.
And it’s only a 25 minute drive from the council’s offices to the cider farm (this one near Tedburn St Mary) where various project-related events are taking place.
The city’s museum is the latest Exeter institution to get roped into fronting Liveable Exeter property development scheme promotion.
Top of the bill last night at the first of two RAMM-hosted Liveable Exeter pitches focussed on the future of the High Street was the city council’s chief executive.
In what was presumably a Freudian slip, the museum’s event promo page initially said he was there to explain what was being done to make Exeter a more exclusive city, before it was amended to say “inclusive” instead.
Instead, attendees were offered a potted history of the ways in which the council’s vision for the High Street has supposedly been persistently prescient.
Twenty years ago, we were told, city centre retail’s principal challenge was out of town retail developments, which needed seeing off with big new shopping centres and department stores.
It seems no-one at Paris Street had then heard of Amazon and eBay, both of which were already seven years old, or Google, which by then had become a verb.
It apparently took until 2007, after the council had successfully “overcome” 5,000 objections to the redevelopment of Princesshay, for the internet to become a threat to the very shopping centres and department stores the council had been promoting.
Falling demand for such facilities didn’t deter it from pursuing a Princesshay extension on the other side of Paris Street for the following decade, or from allocating £55 million to buy back the lease on the Guildhall shopping centre last year to “secure its future use” despite already owning the freehold.
Despite this the council now thinks the city centre’s future depends primarily on attracting residents and visitors.
Whether these residents are expected to stick around for more than a term at a time is not clear, but the visitor attraction bar was raised yesterday by the arrival of plastic dinosaurs in Northernhay Gardens.
The dinosaurs are being kept behind locked gates, presumably to protect them from angry Exeter residents who are being denied access to Northernhay Gardens for the best part of a month.
Adult entry starts at £12 plus booking fee for those who fancy chewing over appropriate use of public parks with a T-Rex.
Much more inclusively-priced is the free second RAMM-hosted Liveable Exeter promo pitch on Thursday 9 June, where Exeter’s future as a “garden city” will be top of the bill.
Roll up and get your tickets here.
ON OUR RADAR
FRIDAY 27 MAY // CAST A SHEEP’S EYE
Joe Levy and Konstantinos Terzakis perform 16th and 17th century Renaissance and Baroque love songs by Purcell, Dowland, Morley and others in a series of concerts in historic buildings.
SUNDAY 29 MAY // SOUND WALKS
Musician and sound artist Emma Welton is leading a series of Sunday afternoon sound walks as part of Exeter Dream Festival.
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
The government finally published its Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill earlier this month, which it trailed as a plan to “transform struggling towns and cities” and support local leaders “to take back control of regeneration”.
An accompanying policy paper claimed the bill would give “local leaders and communities the tools they need to make better places”.
The Town and County Planning Association immediately disagreed, describing it as a “decisive shift of power to Whitehall” which includes the removal of existing rights in relation to the planning process and new powers for the government to change the system through secondary legislation and override local planning policy in decision-making.
Much uncertainty remains around the issues which the bill is supposed to address, not least those planning system reform proposals which the bill has recycled from Robert Jenrick’s defunct 2020 planning white paper.
The bill’s second commons reading is due on 8 June before it goes to committee stage.
There’s a lot to digest. For starters we recommend a Local Government Association analysis of the bill’s planning provisions and a Shelter briefing note on the opportunity it presents to ensure much more social housing is built.
The reformed national system, the details of which are still yet to be decided, is expected to come into force at the same time as Exeter’s new local plan is adopted.
Development of the new local plan is nevertheless well under way, with a first draft due in September.
The importance of both these parallel processes to Exeter’s prospects can hardly be overstated. We will endeavour to keep readers up to speed with critically-informed coverage of both as they develop.
The World Meteorological Association published its latest State of the Global Climate report last week.
The report confirmed that the past seven years have been the warmest seven years on record, with four key climate change indicator records being broken in 2021.
At the same time the Institute for Government published a new report examining incoherent UK net zero policy-making which highlights a “series of decisions where ministers seem to have undermined their own climate objectives”.
These include road-building, cutting air passenger duty on domestic flights, boosting UK oil and gas production and its approval of a new coal mine in Cumbria.
Interesting IfG recommendations include the creation of a new independent body charged with forecasting the emissions impact of policies and other decisions, to sit somewhere between the Office of Budget Responsibility and the Climate Change Committee, following a model used in Denmark.
Meanwhile, a literature review commissioned by My Society considers the significant role that local government must play in climate change mitigation, following reports by the Climate Change Committee, National Audit Office and Energy Systems Catapult which all say that decarbonisation depends on strong local involvement.
It finds that people strongly support net zero policies including frequent flyer levies, carbon taxes, improved public transport and support for replacing gas boilers but, when asked about priorities for their community, emphasise issues including affordable housing, vibrant high streets, green spaces and youth employment.
It also finds that the public makes little distinction between different tiers of government, not understanding the scope and limits of each, so recommends more effective public education and engagement as well as transparent decarbonisation targets and monitoring mechanisms.
Despite most people believing local councils have the most impact on their everyday lives and the quality of life in their area, more than half of Britons claim to know “not very much” or “nothing at all” about the work of local councillors or how decisions are taken locally.
Unsurprisingly, nearly two thirds say they want more information about what’s going on locally and/or more of a say in how local decisions are made.
DCMS SELECT COMMITTEE
Which is where local public interest journalism comes in, or would more readily if the £1 billion annual public subsidy that is being given to three sinking legacy local news conglomerates to keep them afloat was instead redirected towards it.
So said members of the panel giving oral evidence on the sustainability of local journalism to the commons DCMS select committee last week.
The committee gathered a wide range of written evidence for its inquiry into the challenges facing local news organisations earlier this year.
This session was an opportunity for proponents of the approach being followed by Exeter Observer, among others, to set out their stall, contrasting accountable, independent public interest journalism with a business model which commodifies news and corrodes the public sphere with misinformation, causing people to disengage with democracy altogether.
Adam Cantwell-Corn of The Bristol Cable incisively described the problems caused by the economics of ad-sustained journalism when global technology platforms control advertising markets as well as the social media which drive audience attention.
He pointed out that legacy titles are forcing journalists to produce five or more “fast food” stories a day, chasing website traffic at the colossal volumes necessary to collect what is a tiny share of the tech giants’ revenue, traffic that can only be attracted via social media platform incentive structures which favour the polarising content which supports their profits.
He also pointed out that the legacy “local” titles which are now, in the UK, almost all owned by just three companies are no longer local because so much of their content is produced by regional or national hubs, with up to 90% of their website traffic coming from outside the areas their titles claim to cover.
How could the £1 billion instead be spent? It could be used to support the development of business models which are focussed on outcomes, such as increases in trust and democratic engagement, instead of simply churning out cheap, quick, provocative content and reducing readers to consumers rather than considering them as citizens or members of a community.
Watch the session or read the transcript (session II) then join Exeter Observer on its mission to strengthen civil society and help people participate more effectively in local democracy.
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