THE EXETER DIGEST

Exeter Digest #14: Exeter beset - Alphington impacts - Magdalen Road - Community involvement?

Our essential newsletter also covers continuing Exeter Development Fund scrutiny, missing meetings minutes from Exeter City Futures and Devon Climate Emergency Response Group, Liveable Exeter confusion and local design code reforms.

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TOP STORIES

EXETER BESET BY UNAFFORDABLE HOUSING, LOW GRADUATE RETENTION AND ECONOMICALLY INACTIVE OVER 50’S

Exeter City Council executive ignores key challenges flagged in major council-commissioned employment and skills research report.

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ALPHINGTON “ENHANCEMENTS” WILL NOT MITIGATE TRAFFIC IMPACT FROM MASSIVE SOUTH WEST EXETER EXTENSION

County council manipulates public consultation and allocates just 1% of £55 million grant to pedestrian scheme while spending 75% on new roads and increased road capacity for 3,500 new cars expected on greenfield housing estate.

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COUNCIL REJECTS CALLS FOR GREATER COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT IN EXETER PLANNING POLICY AND DECISIONS

Council defends existing approach despite Statement of Community Involvement consultation producing just 17 responses, and won’t do more to promote neighbourhood planning despite prospect of enhanced community powers.

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£900,000 TO KEEP MAGDALEN ROAD ONE-WAY SYSTEM DESPITE DECISIVE PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR LOW TRAFFIC STREET

County council misrepresented and omitted key public consultation findings in report and did not publish results until after decision taken in favour of option with only 18% public support. Exeter Observer snapshot survey finds 90%+ motor vehicles passing shops are through traffic.

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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

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.

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. “The best day ever”, according to one three year-old participant.

NOTES & SKETCHES

BUNDLING BOARDS

In Exeter Digest #11 and #12 we reported on the first and second in a series of city council scrutiny meetings intended to satisfy councillors that Exeter Development Fund is a way to put Exeter on the map rather than the council’s financial viability at risk.

The third session examining the Exeter City Futures-designed development debt vehicle, which took place earlier this month, included yet another presentation from the fund’s promoters instead of the critical analysis with which the council should be equipping the committee.

The council’s predilection for predetermining the questions councillors might like to ask has remained unchanged, unlike the composition of the committee, which has thirteen new members (more than half its number) following the May local elections.

If the council had been hoping to dissipate the committee’s focus by choosing this timetable it will be disappointed. New committee member Tess Read was among several councillors from across the political spectrum who ratcheted up the pressure on Exeter City Futures to properly explain its plans.

Contradictions continue thick and fast. After repeatedly being told that the city’s public sector organisations would be in charge (or those which actually invest assets in the fund, which looks increasingly like being just the city council) it became clear that not only would they be outvoted on the fund’s board, all board appointments would be subject to ministerial approval too.

Meanwhile Exeter City Futures still avoids voluntarily publishing its board minutes and reports despite promising scrutiny members it would do so. Perhaps the appointment of city councillor Zion Lights to the board, which quietly took place last week, will help it better discharge its information governance obligations?

Only after being badgered by committee member Anne Jobson did the company publish the minutes of its March board meeting, more than three months late. But it still failed to include a report which was discussed at the meeting and has yet to publish anything about the board meeting it held at the beginning of June.

The March meeting minutes nevertheless did include details of a presentation about a predominantly greenfield 60-acre business park development at Peamore in which Global City Futures, Exeter City Futures’ parent company, is involved.

LDA Design, which is also helping Exeter City Futures pitch the fund, is involved in the development too.

The ostensibly eco-friendly business park, which the meeting heard was “less than 10-15 minutes’ walk to the city centre” despite being four miles as the crow flies from the company’s Paris Street offices, unashamedly touts its “proximity to key arterial roads” at the intersection of the M5/A38 and A379.

IRRATIONALE BY DESIGN?

Exeter Digest #13 covered the first of two RAMM-hosted Liveable Exeter promotional events. The second, focussed on Exeter’s future as a “garden city”, took place a fortnight ago with the city council’s Director of City Development, Ian Collinson, topping the bill.

Despite having been in post since April, and having overall responsibility for the development of the new Exeter Local Plan and the council’s property development schemes, Mr Collinson appears not to know that the city has more than a dozen significant employment sites in addition to the city centre, or that Exeter suffers from significant outbound, as well as inbound, commuting.

He also seems to think that Exeter’s labour supply problems result from too few people living here, rather than its falling economic activity levels, and that other cities haven’t found solutions for the problems Exeter faces, despite many being far ahead on liveability and decarbonisation.

Meanwhile the basic rationale for the Liveable Exeter-financing Exeter Development Fund — that the council’s planning policy and development control powers and its ownership of many of the scheme’s intended development sites are insufficient to ensure the delivery of low carbon design — continues to shed credibility.

Not only has the government confirmed that local planning authorities are free to set higher standards than the national Building Regulations for energy efficiency, it has since extended these and other related design quality standards to include electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

New detailed design codes are also on their way, which can be used to set stringent standards in much greater detail than planning policy documents.

They can cover environmental and energy efficiency standards, walking and cycling infrastructure specifications and public realm requirements, among many other development delivery details, and are expected to come into force before the new Exeter Local Plan is adopted.

TIK TOK

The county council-convened Devon Climate Emergency Response Group (DCERG) has continued its apparent commitment to avoiding public scrutiny of its decision-making by simultaneously publishing the minutes of six of its meetings (which are held in private without published agendas) at the end of May — despite some of these meetings being held in March.

The DCERG’s minutes, when it does publish them, are not exactly full and frank accounts of what was said and done. This batch included references to new governance arrangements for the county carbon plan, which were explained at the meeting but omitted from the minutes, and a governance structure diagram that was discussed but nowhere to be seen.

Given its determination to keep people in the dark, perhaps the DCERG should not be surprised that the public consultation on its response to the Devon Carbon Plan citizen’s assembly outputs received just 209 responses (from a population of 1.2 million), only ten of which were from organisations and only 2% of which were from people under 24 years old.

ON OUR READING LIST

THE REUTERS INSTITUTE DIGITAL NEWS REPORT is now in its eleventh year. The 2022 edition considers digital news consumption in 46 markets covering half of the world’s population, based on a survey with more than 93,000 respondents, and explores trust in and engagement with journalism as well as audience polarisation and the ways young people access the news.

Key UK findings this year include that news avoidance has almost doubled since 2016, with 46% now saying they avoid the news sometimes or often and many citing “too much news about politics and COVID-19” as a reason.

Meanwhile overall trust in the news is down by 16% since the 2016 Brexit referendum amid increasingly polarised debates about politics and culture, although there are wide variations in trust levels between major brands with only 23% trusting The Daily Mail compared with 48% who trust The Guardian.

The acquisition of Archant, one of the UK’s oldest regional publishers, by US-owned Newsquest in March this year has further consolidated local news ownership and raised concerns about quality.

Newsquest has been accused of treating journalists like “battery hens” because of its page view targets, which most think unachievable, while Reach, which owns Devon Live, Exeter Express & Echo, Plymouth Herald and Western Morning News, uses a similar clickbait-prizing approach.

Newsquest, Reach and National World now control almost 70% of all UK local newspaper circulation, with 700 titles between them of which Newsquest alone owns almost a third.

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