About Exeter Observer

Independent public interest community journalism for Exeter and beyond

Exeter Observer is owned and managed, researched and written, designed and developed, promoted and distributed by people like you who share a mission to strengthen civil society and help people participate more effectively in local democracy.

Exeter Observer is editorially and financially independent, which means we can produce and publish our content without political or commercial bias.

We’ll never publish advertorial, clickbait or party political broadcasts and we don’t have a profit-driven commercial agenda or a business model that invades your privacy or facilitates the spread of fake news.

Instead we deliver in-depth articles and investigative journalism with real relevance and impact while informing and empowering the communities we serve.

This means we’ll keep people who live or work in Exeter informed of what’s being done in their name, by whom, with the community assets they own and the taxes they pay.

We seek to increase public understanding of complex local issues and decision-making processes, make pertinent information more widely accessible and stimulate more inclusive and better-informed debate.

Many of our stories are focussed on local democracy, climate change, spatial development and transport and mobility but we also cover the local economy and Exeter’s cultural and community life.

We aim to amplify local voices, support community dialogue and inspire action for change.

“We need institutions that have the ability, both financially and culturally, to bring news that other institutions and individuals cannot.”

Carl Bernstein, Watergate reporter

Exeter Observer observes industry best-practice principles and is fully accountable:

Exeter Observer publishes news, analysis and in-depth features which inform and empower while holding wealth, power and the influence of individuals and institutions to account by investigating their actions and challenging them in the public sphere.

Democracy, trust & the media

In the decade since the banking crisis standards in public life have declined while rising income and wealth inequality, confusion over the role of the public sector, fake news and digital media echo chamber effects have helped populists win influence and power.

A democratic deficit has grown while trust in our institutions and civic engagement, particularly among young people, has reached an historic low.

Our political system is proving unfit for purpose just as we most need it to respond to a new class of “super wicked” problems.

These not only require many people to change their views and behaviour, but demand urgent resolution despite there being no central authority to deal with them. The decisions of those in leadership positions are often also their cause.

Liveable Exeter?

Exeter must confront a cluster of such cross-sector, multi-stakeholder problems covering housing and education, health and social care, transport and mobility and economic and social justice.

At the same time the city is declaiming itself as a “global leader in addressing the social, economic and environmental challenges of climate change and urbanisation” despite the many ways in which it is anything but.

If reality is to match rhetoric, profound change must take place.

Meanwhile Exeter City Council will shortly become what the Electoral Reform Society calls a “one party council”, having been overwhelmingly controlled by the same political party since 2012.

Devon County Council has been in this state, under the same leader, since 2009.

Academic research has shown that this “weak electoral accountability” greatly increases the likelihood of corruption, cronyism and spending decisions which offer poor value for public money.

The city has outsourced its governance to unelected boards which meet in secret and defied local government guidelines by filling statutory council committees with Executive members while removing accountability and scrutiny mechanisms from the council constitution.

Major problems remain essentially unaddressed while those in leadership roles disregard available solutions, present counterproductive outcomes as positive change and ignore the wishes of residents in decisions which will adversely affect the city for decades to come.

“A newspaper is much more than a business. It has a moral as well as a material existence.”

C.P. Scott, Manchester Guardian editor 1872-1929

Democratic literacy

Attempts to address such problems are hampered by the way public policy is determined and delivered across overlapping jurisdictions by multiple authorities with often conflicting political perspectives and strategic interests.

Other powerful yet unaccountable organisations and actors also significantly influence decision-making which affects us all.

Active participation in civil society is an important remedy for these ills. It critically depends on people understanding complex processes while also being sufficiently well-informed about what is taking place to engage with local democracy and intervene in the interests of their family, friends and communities.

From parliament to parish council the democratic literacy on which this participation depends relies on ready access to accurate, relevant, timely information about who is deciding what on whose behalf and how the bill for those decisions will be paid.

Local public interest news

Good quality local public interest news can answer this need while empowering communities, representing their interests and reflecting their cultural life.

It can hold wealth, power and the influence of individuals and institutions to account by scrutinising, investigating and reporting on the activities of government, business and charities and those that lead them.

However, changes in the structure, role and reach of legacy local media whose editorial independence is at risk from advertisers, owners and shareholders have left it ill-equipped to play this role.

Exeter Observer is part of an agile, innovative local news sector that has emerged in response to these challenges which avoids the pitfalls of traditional local media business models to deliver independent community journalism that has public interest at its heart.

Exeter Observer is published by Exeter Observer Limited, Community Benefit Society No. 8435 registered under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014.

Our registered address is St Sidwell’s Community Centre, Sidwell Street, Exeter EX4 6NN.

Recent stories
Protestors hold Devon County Council stop funding fossil fuel companies banner in Bedford Square

Analysis  ⁄  Climate & environment

County council doubles down on pension fund divestment position

Devon Pension Fund remains committed to fossil fuel investment despite increasingly untenable pension fund committee position that relies on unfounded shareholder influence claims and failure to understand sector position and plans.

Universities social mobility scatter chart showing University of Exeter ranking

News  ⁄  Community & society

University of Exeter ranked bottom of Russell Group and 103rd overall in social mobility league table

Landmark study by Institute for Fiscal Studies, Sutton Trust and Department for Education finds University of Exeter undergraduates are less likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those that do are less likely to be high earners.

Reclaim the Night march on Exeter High Street

News  ⁄  Community & society

500 march in Reclaim the Night protest against sexual violence and harassment on Exeter streets

Annual event promoting public awareness of male violence against women and girls in public spaces coincides with international human rights campaigns.

Black-tailed godwits in Exe Estuary

News  ⁄  Climate & environment

Exe Estuary wildlife refuges succeed in increasing bird numbers

Three year monitoring study confirms introduction of protected spaces has resulted in greater numbers of wildfowl using internationally important Dawlish Warren and Exmouth sites.

St Thomas Community Garden volunteers

Review  ⁄  Community & society

First St Thomas winter market brings festival feel to "overlooked" area of Exeter

A community-run event at St Thomas' Church combined artisan traders with music, storytelling and craft workshops to create a family-friendly festival atmosphere.

Harlequins revised redevelopment scheme - block two model view Paul Street elevation

Analysis  ⁄  Planning & place

Exeter City Council approves second Harlequins "co-living" block, sealing fate of Paul Street

Previously rejected vision will now form basis of "abysmal" and "poorly thought through" Liveable Exeter development of 383 "units of accommodation" with increased proportion of substandard studios but reduced economic value to city.

Recent stories
Protestors hold Devon County Council stop funding fossil fuel companies banner in Bedford Square

County council doubles down on pension fund divestment position

Universities social mobility scatter chart showing University of Exeter ranking

University of Exeter ranked bottom of Russell Group and 103rd overall in social mobility league table

Reclaim the Night march on Exeter High Street

500 march in Reclaim the Night protest against sexual violence and harassment on Exeter streets

Black-tailed godwits in Exe Estuary

Exe Estuary wildlife refuges succeed in increasing bird numbers

St Thomas Community Garden volunteers

First St Thomas winter market brings festival feel to "overlooked" area of Exeter

Harlequins revised redevelopment scheme - block two model view Paul Street elevation

Exeter City Council approves second Harlequins "co-living" block, sealing fate of Paul Street

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Featured stories
Cargo bike carrying kids in Exeter

Comment  ⁄  Transport & mobility

If you think electric vehicles are the answer, you're asking the wrong question

Mike Walton of Exeter Cycling Campaign says we shouldn't be seduced by the motoring lobby into believing that electric cars can create the future we and our children need.

Exeter City Council climate credentials claim in St Sidwells Point development hoarding

Analysis  ⁄  Climate & environment

Greens call for evidence-based Exeter carbon budget as city council clings to net zero rhetoric

The Net Zero Exeter plan lacks baseline emissions figures, recognised scope definitions and measurement and reporting frameworks, placing the city's decarbonisation agenda at risk. The opportunity for Exeter to demonstrate genuine climate crisis leadership nevertheless remains.

Independent local business on Paris Street, Exeter

Analysis  ⁄  Planning & place

Prospects improve for pop-up Paris Street and Sidwell Street tenants wanting to stay on development site

Council leader Phil Bialyk says it will be "some years" before planned CityPoint redevelopment affects repurposed retail units, and that council "would want" to accommodate artistic and cultural initiatives and independent local businesses "should they wish to remain".

Clifton Hill sports centre

Analysis  ⁄  Planning & place

Council plans to scrap affordable housing requirement for Clifton Hill sports centre site redevelopment

Council-owned and financed developer cites unpublished report which values council-owned land for student housing despite council decision ruling out this use.

Liveable Exeter Place Board agenda October 2020 redacted

Analysis  ⁄  Democracy & governance

City council outsourcing Exeter local government to unaccountable Liveable Exeter Place Board

An Exeter Observer investigation of Liveable Exeter Place Board has found that it is a de facto decision-making and governance body which exercises public functions with the potential to affect everyone who lives and works in Exeter.

Exeter city centre from Exeter Cathedral roof

Analysis  ⁄  Democracy & governance

Freedom of Information requests reveal Liveable Exeter Place Board "chumocracy" overseeing the city

Despite the significance of Liveable Exeter Place Board's role in determining the city's future, its members are selected and appointed on a secretive, informal basis.

Bar chart showing 2020 pollution incidents per 10,000km2 for the nine privatised water companies in England

News  ⁄  Climate & environment

South West Water misses pollution targets for tenth year running

Environment Agency says regional company's performance "drags down the whole sector's reputation" as report places it at bottom of annual assessment league table while company pays out millions in shareholder dividends.

Positive Light Projects - Sidwell Street entrance

Analysis  ⁄  Arts & culture

Positive Light Projects opens community arts centre despite CityPoint redevelopment threat

Parts of Exeter city centre are experiencing an unplanned renaissance as small shops and cultural venues move in to fill empty units on Paris Street and Sidwell Street, but uncertainty remains as the council still plans to demolish and redevelop.

New Haven Field in Exeter's Riverside Valley Park

Analysis  ⁄  Planning & place

River Exe green spaces and heritage harbour site threatened by "Liveable Exeter" development scheme

Exeter Civic Society and Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors raise alarm at prospect of Exeter City Council development in river valley park and historic canal basin.

Clydesdale, Nash and Birks Grange Village redevelopment illustrative elevations

Analysis  ⁄  Planning & place

University drops environmental standards for huge student flats development with council approval

University of Exeter and Exeter City Council both ignore own policies in plans to demolish 30 buildings and construct 50,000m2 of new student accommodation, telling us more about their priorities than their climate leadership claims.

Devon Pension Fund fossil fuel holdings

Analysis  ⁄  Climate & environment

Devon Pension Fund fossil fuel investment position exposed by Shell and BP AGM votes

Shareholder support for Paris Agreement-compatible goals increases but fails to prevent continuing oil and gas exploration, extraction, production or consumption as experts intensify warnings that emissions reductions goals will be missed.

Exeter City Council 2021 election results ballot share percentage by ward

Analysis  ⁄  Democracy & governance

Did Exeter's local elections results tell a Labour success story?

Exeter Labour lost just one seat in the city council elections and held all seven of its county hall seats, but on closer inspection its performance was more mixed than these headline results imply.

Centre for Cities Exeter City Monitor graphic

Comment  ⁄  Economy & enterprise

Selective use of statistics presents an unbalanced account of Exeter's economic & environmental status

Exeter City Council's Chief Executive uses statistics to show the city in a good light, but in doing so presents a picture which omits important information about the city's true position.

Maclaines Warehouses beside Exeter ship canal

Analysis  ⁄  Planning & place

Maclaines Warehouses development tests Exeter Heritage Harbour status

Decisions taken behind closed doors in favour of commercial interests threaten maritime and waterway heritage vision for Exeter’s historic quay, canal and canal basin.

Exeter Guildhall needs repairs

Analysis  ⁄  Democracy & governance

£37.5 million council maintenance backlog caused by underinvestment to be part-funded by asset sales

Exeter City Council has allowed property assets to deteriorate while prioritising new schemes including the £44 million St Sidwell's Point leisure centre, forcing it to identify assets for sale to pay its outstanding repair bills.

Exeter City Council offices on Paris Street

Analysis  ⁄  Democracy & governance

Council pushes back on Liveable Exeter Place Board scrutiny following membership change

Exeter City Council has responded to an enquiry about disproportionate Church of England representation on the Liveable Exeter Place Board by accusing Exeter Observer of promoting a "partisan narrative" and claiming our public interest reporting "bears no resemblance to fact".

Harlequins shopping centre

Analysis  ⁄  Planning & place

First Liveable Exeter homes are substandard "warehousing for people" which is student accommodation "in all but name"

Harlequins shopping centre redevelopment approved by Exeter City Council includes 251 co-living units in seven storey tower block despite widespread opposition from conservation charities and community campaigners who have since appealed to the Secretary of State to call in the decision.

Net Zero Exeter 2030 plan proposals vs Exeter territorial emissions vs Exeter carbon footprint bar chart

Analysis  ⁄  Climate & environment

Is the "Net Zero" Exeter plan fit for purpose? Part I: Exeter's carbon footprint

Exeter City Futures' carbon reduction plan ignores over a million tonnes of carbon emissions and massively underestimates the challenges facing the city. First in a series examining its flaws.

Food retailers at Queen Street Dining in Exeter Guildhall shopping centre

Analysis  ⁄  Democracy & governance

Unelected Liveable Exeter Place Board created to oversee city from the shadows

Exeter City Council has convened an unelected board that meets in private, does not publish its discussions or decisions and is taking responsibility for major policies which will determine Exeter's future.

Pulling Road Pinhoe Exeter zero carbon housing development site plan

Analysis  ⁄  Planning & place

Exeter's first "zero carbon" housing development includes 96 car parking spaces for 40 homes

Exeter City Council has approved plans to develop land at Pinhoe with a parking ratio of 2.4 cars per household as part of an "exemplar scheme for future residential development in the city" while accepting that zero carbon construction comes "at a cost to the provision of affordable housing".