Heavitree Road Redevelopment: Appeal Dismissed

On 2 Feb, Planning Inspector H. Baugh-Jones dismissed the appeal from the developers of the former Police Station & Magistrate Site on Heavitree Road. The Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall and the developer had appealed against ECC's refusal of the outline planning permission to develop two large student/co-living blocks on the site. Local councillors and residents objected in Feb 2023 to the scheme, which had been recommended to the Planning Committee by the ECC Director of Development, Ian Collinson, who saw this development in line with ECC's Liveable Exeter vision.

The appeal decision reads:

“6. Both before and during the course of the Inquiry, the Council and appellants reached further agreement on a number of matters including in relation to neighbouring residential amenity, on and off-site amenity space, trees and planning obligations. The Council withdrew its objections to the scheme relating to those matters. Consequently, I did not hear formal evidence on them. I have, however, taken the views of interested parties who maintain their objections on some of those and other matters into account.”

“7.  In light of the above, the main issues are now:
• The effects of the proposal on the character and appearance of the area, including its effects on a non-designated heritage asset, St Luke’s College
• The effects on the living conditions of neighbouring occupiers in Higher Summerlands with regard to privacy and outlook”

“17. I note that the Council seeks transformational change on the site and there is clearly an opportunity to introduce a development that would achieve that objective. However, whilst ‘transformational change’ can be interpreted in a number of ways, 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. I acknowledge the desire for the efficient use of land, but the proposal goes beyond what is acceptable in terms of the density, grain and overall character of its surroundings.”

“28. Taking all of this into account, the effects of the proposed development would not be so profound so as to result in harmful effects either in terms of outlook or privacy for residents in Higher Summerlands. The proposal therefore accords with LP Policies H5a) and SG4b) which both seek to protect the amenity of residents. It would also accord with paragraph 135f) (formerly paragraph 130f) of the Framework which, amongst other things, seeks to ensure developments provide a high standard of amenity for existing and future residents.”

Exeter Civic Society thinks  Para 17 is interesting as this sets a standard for further high-density brownfield developments in Exeter. It clearly shows how serious the ‘overall character of the surroundings of a development site’ has to be taken. Whatever will be applied for must be not at odds with its context, or to put it in planning speak: “the scale and intensity of use” must “not harm the character of the area” (Para 22). This has serious implications for contextual assessments of appropriate densities and heights, issues our Society has been flagging up again and again. We are looking forward to some more specific guidance in the relevant chapters of the ‘Exeter Plan’ where we criticised the vagueness of the ‘Full Draft Version’.

Interesting also that the Inspector classified ‘The Gorge’ as “the somewhat anomalous exception” (Para 13) amongst the neighbouring buildings of the Former Policer Station and Magistrate Court site.

One can only wonder whether the Haven Banks Redevelopment would have gone through had this Appeal Decision come out earlier. What was voted through there in the Planning Committee looks similarly out of sink with its neighbouring context.