In this article, we look at the challenge facing planner of how to manage the expansion of Exeter, a city that is one of the most successful and fastest growing in the country, and how the local planning authorities are seeking to apply a strategic approach to supporting this growth whilst managing the impact of this on an area which is also one of the most environmentally sensitive parts of the UK.
Bell Cornwell has considerable experience of working for clients on a range of strategic housing and employment projects that have helped reconcile developers’ interests with the strategic ambitions of the areas’ local planning authorities. With the knowledge that comes from this experience, we are well acquainted with the various growth-related issues that developers and local authorities alike are grappling with at the moment.
Exeter is the capital of the South West. It is a very strong university city (Exeter University is ranked 12th Nationally), attracts major employers (e.g the Met Office, John Lewis) and has excellent road, rail and air links to the rest of the UK. There has been considerable demographic change to Exeter and the surrounding areas caused, for example, by higher numbers of people choosing to move/return to the South West and students wishing to stay in the area post-graduation. All these factors generate conditions for a strong and growing city and a city council which, recognising the opportunities, has adopted a proactive growth agenda.
The impetus for growth needs to be tempered by the implications of the significant environmental constraints which surround the city (e.g the Exe Estuary, the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the coastline) and, arguably, political constraints, which create real challenges to finding ways to facilitate growth. Exeter has also been identified recently as one of the most congested cities in the country, with pressures to cut air pollution and traffic. In combination, these challenges present Exeter and its hinterland authorities with the considerable conundrum of how to accommodate growth in a manageable and measured way.
The City Council has a very strong housing agenda and Exeter has been experiencing a lot of housing growth, much of which has been spilling outside of the city boundary. Reflecting the difference in the value of the two uses, housing delivery is now significantly outstripping employment delivery in the region. This has knock-on effects, for example, workers in-commuting to Exeter from surrounding districts, which jeopardises wider environmental and sustainability objectives.
To add to the mix, the surrounding local authorities have different political complexities and views on how to deliver growth in the region. Bell Cornwell’s experience of working across the South West is that different local planning authorities respond to development in different ways, which is arguably a fragmented approach to achieving the overall objectives of the area and has highlighted the need for a more coherent strategic approach.
Introducing the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan
In an attempt to remedy the problem, the decision has been made by the main authorities in and surrounding Exeter (comprising Devon County Council, Exeter City and East Devon, Mid Devon and Teignbridge District Councils) to reintroduce a more strategic approach; one which, only six years after regional structure plans were abolished by the (then) Government in an ideology-driven move, would see a return to a formal region plan in the form of the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan. (GESP).
Once approved, the GESP will provide a strategic framework for growth in the Exeter region up to 2040 and which will seek to balance housing and employment delivery, whilst also taking a strategic view on the delivery of infrastructure and ways to minimise environmental impacts.
Whilst the GESP is still at an early stage of production, we are aware that this will have a direct bearing on the pattern of future growth in and around Exeter and, therefore, on development opportunities. Early analysis suggests that housing growth will be accelerated, employment provision will be doubled and a variety of high-level infrastructure projects, such as public transport and road improvements, will be put forward as well.
How might the GESP manifest itself?
At this early stage, it is difficult to forecast accurately how the requirements of the GESP might pan out on the ground but the potential is clear there for some significant signals to be made on the direction and form of growth in each of the four district areas. A full draft of the GESP is expected to be published in Summer 2019, at which time there will be the opportunity for all interested parties to comment, but views are clearly emerging already.
If you would like more information on the challenges facing the growth of Exeter and how we think GESP might manifest itself, or you would like to discuss how we could help you with development proposals across the region, please contact Partner, Iestyn John or Senior Principal Planner, Amy Roberts on 01392 539720.