NEWS PLANNING & PLACE

Compulsory purchase of flats and disposal of council land to enable Water Lane development site access

Exeter City Council to use powers to provide developer with land for new highways layout at gateway to proposed low-traffic neighbourhood.

Exeter city council Liveable exeter Water lane Property development Planning policy Public consultation Liveable exeter place board Exeter development fund

Exeter City Council is to use its compulsory purchase powers to acquire a block of four flats on the corner of Tan Lane and Water Lane and two nearby strips of land to make way for vehicular access to the southern section of the Water Lane redevelopment site.

It says the acquisitions, which will be sold to the site’s developer, will enable the creation of a “gateway” to the development, a new access road alongside the railway line and the widening of Water Lane at its eastern end where there are no pavements and residents currently park.

It also intends to dispose of the corner of its Exton Road recycling depot to enable better road access to the development site from the south side of the railway beside the existing Tan Lane underpass.

Casting House Water Lane development site compulsory purchase Water Lane residential flats to be acquired to make way for highways access to development site

Water Lane Development Management Companyhas been acquiring and assembling parcels of land in the area for several years on behalf of Cilldara Group, part of a complex web of holding companies with property development interests across the UK and in Ireland.

A report to the city council’s Executive committee says the company “has already tried acquiring the land parcels via negotiation” and would “continue to try to acquire the remaining interests by private treaty” but adds that “without the threat of compulsion it may be difficult to acquire the final strategic land holdings needed”.

It says the acquisitions would be “in the public interest and of benefit to the well-being of existing residents” for a range of reasons centred on enabling site development. These include making “major shifts in mobility to take pressure off busy road corridors”, facilitating “continued operation of the canal” and providing “numerous growth and employment opportunities for the area (and Exeter as a whole)”.

Both the developer’s attempts to acquire the land privately and the council’s claims about public benefit are intended to make a “compelling case” to justify the use of compulsory purchase powers to central government.

Using these powers would also entail the developer agreeing to cover all the council’s costs, although such an indemnity agreement would not protect the council if the developer went bust, as the council’s finance director pointed out in the report.

He also commented that the degree of financial risk this presented could not be assessed as the report did not specify how much the compulsory purchase might cost.

Water Lane development site parcels 2 May 2023

Water Lane development site purchase parcels in red. Proposed new road layout in blue. Plan provided to council Executive committee meeting.

At the Executive committee meeting councillors largely focussed on the impact their decision would have on the occupants of the four flats that would be demolished to make way for the development.

Council leader Phil Bialyk asked what assurances council development director Ian Collinson could offer that the residents would not be “ousted with no alternatives”. Ian Collinson confirmed that a compulsory purchase order would be a “last resort” that would be used only if the land couldn’t be acquired though negotiation with its owner.

When Phil Bialyk pointed out that his question was focussed on the tenants’ fate, rather than the outcome for the landlord, Ian Collinson replied that the process was being pursued without risk to the council and that the developer would be given “really clear messages” about people being “dealt with in a considered way”.

Executive member Martin Pearce then commented that due process alone would not compel the landlord to take care of the tenants, and said that council officers would be offering the affected residents support with their housing needs.

Councillor Duncan Wood added that it was “really good to hear those assurances”.

Water Lane development site ownership 14 January 2022

Water Lane development site ownership in red. Plan provided to council Executive committee meeting.

No-one asked, and the report doesn’t explain, how the acquisition of the flats would enable the creation of a “gateway” to the development given that, according to the provided ownership plan, the land they stand on is not adjacent to the land the developer has assembled.

This map appears to show that most of the rest of the land on which the new highways layout is proposed is not in the developer’s control either.

When we asked the council to clarify the position, it confirmed that Water Lane Development Management Company has now agreed to purchase plot twelve, enabling what the council calls an “appropriately safe and desirable access solution” to minimise “vehicular access to the regeneration area via Haven Road, maintaining the relatively quiet and pedestrian character of the quayside”.

Vehicular access to the site is only possible from Alphington Road to the west via Haven Road or Willeys Avenue (restricted to inbound traffic from the Exe Bridges direction), and from Clapperbridge Lane to the east beside the new Marsh Barton railway station. Tan Lane is closed, except to buses.

The 20% car ownership that is being proposed for the site would mean around 300 additional private cars on a per-household basis, but around 700 of them on a per-head basis if the 1,500 dwellings that are expected each housed the 2.36 people per household that is the national average.

If the impact of the traffic generated by the development is to be minimised at the Haven Road end, and is not to travel along the narrow canalside route from the Clapperbridge end, it must access the site through Marsh Barton industrial estate.

Water Lane development site gift

Water Lane development site land grant in red. Plan provided to council Executive committee meeting.

This is why the council also proposes disposing of part of the Exton Road recycling depot to enable a new highways layout beside the “not really fit for purpose” Tan Lane underpass.

Disposal would take the form of granting the land to Devon County Council, if highways officers agree, or selling it for less than best consideration to the developer, with the intention that it is used “to improve cycle, pedestrian and electric bus routes to the area”.

It’s not clear whether construction traffic would also be able to travel this way because the railway running overhead restricts the height below.

Selling it for best consideration, which the council would normally be required to do by law, is not recommended in the report on the grounds that “the greater the cost of the underpass improvements the less likely they are to be delivered”.

The report also cites the value of the council’s contribution to a “circa million pound infrastructure improvement that could facilitate improved cycle, pedestrian and electric bus routes, reducing car usage and the savings associated with Exeter having a healthier population”.

It adds: “Good access facilitates good trade as well as access to a wider workforce”.

When Executive member Ruth Williams asked council development director Ian Collinson whether the land would end up in the hands of the county council or the developer, he said that while the county council was “fully on board with the movement and access strategy” there was “always that eventuality that for whatever reason [it] may choose not to adopt it”.

He nevertheless said that he had an “absolute expectation” that the land would become part of the public highway.

As with the compulsory purchases, the council’s finance director pointed out in the report that a land value assessment had not been provided, precluding a proper risk assessment. At the meeting the development director nevertheless said that the proposals present “limited, if any risk to the council”.

Exton Road depot land with underpass to be repurposed for Water Lane development highways access Exton Road depot land with underpass to be repurposed for Water Lane development highways access

The development director’s report describes the Water Lane area as “arguably the most exciting large scale brownfield regeneration opportunity in the city”.

The council is currently presenting it as having two zones, although it is designated as a single site, including Haven Banks retail park at one end and Grace Road playing field at the other, in the outline draft version of the new Exeter local plan.

The council’s northern zone is dominated by a former gas works. The southern zone, which runs alongside the railway line and is largely separated from the canal by existing housing and the northern zone, contains an electricity substation.

Regeneration of the area has been intended for decades. Saved policies from the 1995-2011 Exeter Local Plan First Review and the 2012 Exeter Core Strategy propose mixed development including housing, leisure and employment use. Around 1,500 new dwellings are eventually expected in the area, of which nearly 1,200 are scheduled to come forward in the next fifteen years or so.

Exeter City Futures had most of the site in its sights five years ago, intending to incorporate it in its Exeter Development Fund plans, but by January 2020 it had realised that a “significant amount of the land here has been purchased by a private developer which represents a risk to the inclusion of this key area within the overall project”.

Liveable Exeter Place Board has also been monitoring the project. In December 2021 it was presented with a progress report that showed the gas works as included in the assembled land, but their redevelopment is now not expected before Water Lane Development Management Company, on behalf of a Cilldara Group subsidiary, gets underway in the southern zone.

Water Lane development site regeneration zones

Water Lane development site regeneration zones. Plan provided to council Executive committee meeting.

The city council signed a planning performance agreement with one of Cilldara Group’s subsidiaries last May. The council is also working on a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) that is intended to provide a development framework and design code for the site, and to inform planning decision-making as applications come forward before the new Exeter Local Plan is adopted.

A public consultation will be held on the Water Lane SPD in the autumn, although an outline planning application for the development is expected before then.

Homes England is keen on the project. When Ian Collinson still worked there, before joining the council, he enthusiastically endorsed the Water Lane development plans, saying they would “exemplify the Liveable Exeter vision and set the benchmark for future development”.

The developer has led two public consultation exercises so far. The first took place in June and July last year, two years after a dedicated stakeholder engagement strategy was commissioned for project. The second was held in March and April this year. The council says that the “majority of the responses received to these consultations were supportive”.

When the engagement strategy was shared with councillors in February last year, council officers said the council’s Liveable Exeter project team intended to use it as a template for all nine Liveable Exeter sites, in conjunction with the council’s consultation charter.

One councillor responded by saying it “did not go far enough and did not adequately reflect the Liveable Exeter document’s ambition of putting people first in delivering better neighbourhoods and communities” and was “an insufficient bench mark for the remainder of Liveable Exeter sites”.



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