Letter by the Chair in the Express & Echo, 20 April 2023: Council should honour what has been agreed

In the 'Letters & Opinion' section of the Express & Echo, 20 April 2023

I am writing in response to the very valid concerns expressed by Juliet Meadowcroft in her letter in the letters page of 6 April-Housing density breaks promise made to village.

There appears to be a lack of respect by Exeter City Council officers and their Planning Committee for the views of local people, but more importantly to written masterplans and the council’s own policy documents when considering planning applications. So what was the point of the city council working with the Alphington Forum to develop a master plan if it is now ignored? It was good to hear that councillor Hannaford spoke for the Alphington master plan, and I am sure a few other councillors will also have done so.

There are many other examples of such disregard for written plans and guidance. In developing proposals for the former Clifton Hill sports centre site the city council council’s own development company completely disregarded their own Residential Design Guide (so good it was nominated for a reward) in designing homes with very little garden space, ignoring recognised street planning, and even appealed against the need to fund ANY social housing! The very same development company has recently consulted on proposals for new water sports facilities with housing above at Haven Road extending to four storeys on the edge of the canal basin, completely ignoring the council’s own Canal Basin Master Plan which called for low rise buildings of mixed design, and the fact that the canal was recently granted Heritage Harbour status, with an expectation that more boat activity will be developed.

At the nearby former Haven Banks retail site developers are proposing new residential blocks up to six storeys which is twice as high as most neighbouring homes, even stating that they respect the existing area. And when the developer offered to amend the plans to take account of people’s concerns, the city council council’s own designer guided changes to the proposals – but there is still no change to the height of the buildings – so do planning officers already support six storey blocks in this area? Whilst height is not always a problem, surely buildings must respect what is already there, except perhaps in the city centre, and then they must offer exceptional design.

Has the city council become a soft touch for developers, or is the council so desperate to build homes that they will agree to anything? There are a few occasions when the city planners have refused proposals for being too high, including recent proposals for the former Police station and magistrates courts, so I hope they will be brave enough to refuse inappropriate development, especially when sites are not part of the current local plan, such as at Haven Banks and the former Police station site.  Exeter Civic Society recognises a need to build to higher densities, but if developers and the council want respect and support, they must stick to what has previously been agreed and accepted. We recently developed a Prospectus for the Water Lane area with members of that community following discussions with city planners, and we hope that it will be adopted as part of the new Exeter Plan (for the next 20 years of development in the city) – we hope this not be a pointless exercise as residents of Alphington found with their master plan.  Developers often cite the cost of acquiring and developing a site as a reason for having to build denser, or for not providing essential infrastructure such as affordable housing or improved highways, but with advanced master planning these extra costs should be obvious and land costs taken account of from the outset. We hope that all future council planning documents will be robust enough to guide future development and not fall foul of ambitious developers and inappropriate development.

Keith Lewis

Chairman, Exeter Civic Society