NEWS PLANNING & PLACE

Heavitree Road police station & magistrates court redevelopment appeal dismissed

Devon & Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner and offshore development partner sent back to drawing board after attempt to overturn city council decision to refuse two huge student/co-living blocks fails.

Exeter city council Liveable exeter Student accommodation Co-living Devon & cornwall police

Exeter City Council’s decision to refuse planning permission for a student and co-living development on the site of the former police station and magistrates court in Heavitree Road has been upheld by a planning inspector at appeal.

The application for outline planning permission (with all matters considered in detail except landscaping) was eventually refused in February last year after eight design iterations, six council meetings and four rounds of public consultation had considered it over the course of nearly three years.

The development had been enthusiastically recommended by city council development director Ian Collinson who said its extreme residential densities would align with the council’s Liveable Exeter vision.

However local councillors and residents objected to the scheme for a wide range of reasons. These included the adverse impact of its scale, mass and siting, the insufficient residential amenity space it provided, the harm it would do to the surrounding area and the loss of 26 trees on the site.

Illustrative elevation of proposed development facing St Luke's campus Illustrative elevation of proposed development facing St Luke’s campus

Joint developers the office of the Devon & Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner and offshore-registered PBSA Heavitree Road S.A.R.L. sought to overturn the decision at appeal in September last year. A five-day hearing took place just before Christmas.

Amended plans submitted before the appeal clarified that the total number of units proposed in the development after further changes were made to the building designs was 955, nine fewer than the 964 units that had been refused.

The council and the appellants reached agreement over a range of issues relating to the development both before and during the hearing.

As a result, the inspector’s decision focussed on its prospective impact on the character and appearance of the area, including on St Luke’s College buildings on the university campus opposite, and on the privacy and outlook of neighbouring residents in Higher Summerlands to the west.

Illustrative aerial view of proposed development from south east Illustrative aerial view of proposed development from south east

The inspector said the proposed buildings would appear as “vastly larger than any other nearby building”, including The Gorge, the neighbouring block described as “student accommodation”, and “would be of immense proportions compared to anything surrounding them”.

The inspector added that while the council seeks what it calls “transformational change” on the development site, this phrase can be interpreted in several ways, and that “it would be perverse for that interpretation to mean introducing a development at odds with its context as that approach would not accord with the principles of good design required by local and national planning policy”.

He also said the proposal “goes beyond what is acceptable in terms of the density, grain and overall character of its surroundings” and would be “unacceptably strident” in a predominantly suburban residential area, although he found it would not be harmful to the historic significance of the St Luke’s College building opposite.

He added that the development site’s distance from Heavitree Road roundabout suggested that the claim that the scheme would create a gateway to Exeter city centre would be “a gateway in the wrong place”.

The inspector nevertheless found that the outlook and privacy for residents in Higher Summerlands would not be materially different as a result of the scheme, partly because their main focus is away from the development site towards their larger rear gardens and street access.

Development site boundary beside Higher Summerlands residential housing Development site boundary beside Higher Summerlands residential housing

Significant changes to the National Planning Policy Framework to which planning decisions must adhere were made immediately after the appeal hearing concluded, which meant that the council no longer had to demonstrate a supply of specific development sites that are sufficient to meet government-set housing delivery targets for the following five years.

The reduced requirement for four years’ housing land supply, and the council’s current ability to demonstrate it, means that planning decisions in the city are now not skewed favour of approval as they had been for several years.

The inspector said that this reduced requirement does not diminish the value of development proposals that provide new housing, particularly as housing delivery targets are, in any case, a minimum.

However he concluded that, these potential benefits notwithstanding, the scheme would be “overly-assertive and incongruous”, would “cross the line of acceptability in terms of its effects on the local area” and would cause harm to the area’s character and appearance that would be “severe”.



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