Councillors said it would be ‘silly’ to dismiss a petition signed by 4,000 people calling for developers to ‘stop destroying historic Exeter’ – but a new government policy may supersede the bid.
Campaigners behind the plea say loopholes in existing rules are being exploited and are concerned over long-term damage to culture and heritage, writes Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Clark.
They claim a lack of clear rules, backed by thorough research and evidence into what Exeter really needs, means schemes are being passed that normally would not.
Half of those who have signed the ‘Please help us stop developers destroying historic Exeter’ petition have an EX postcode.
The matter was discussed by Exeter City Council’s planning committee last week.
Councillors heard that a new Government White Paper on planning could create a ‘developers’ charter’ and leave the authority with fewer powers.
Members agreed to note the contents of the petition and that progress should be made to ensure robust policies and plans are in place to meet the development demands being placed on the city.
And while councillors agreed with large parts of what the petition called for, they said some are out of their control.
St David’s ward member Councillor Diana Moore, who presented the petition on behalf of Exeter residents, said: “Achieving 4,000 signatures is a significant achievement and demonstrates the strength of feeling on how thoughtless development is damaging our great city but not providing the homes we need to meet community needs.
“This initiative, led by local people, sends a message loud and clear that residents want to be brought into the planning system and are prepared to engage with the future of the city.
“There is a growing feeling among Exeter residents that development isn’t benefiting people who live in the city or creating thriving communities.
“At a time when there is so much talk about building back better and the need to create a zero-carbon city by 2030, let’s seize this moment to update planning policy and provide real opportunities for local residents to contribute their local knowledge.
Cllr Amal Ghusain was impressed with the petition, but said: “What is missing is they don’t fully understand that things are outside the control of the council and we are not the authority that does the framework nationally.
“We have to adhere to that and there are some things that the council cannot do anything about.
“We agree with some of the things raised in the petition, but we are constrained by the resources and by national policies that are in place.”
Cllr Rob Hannaford added: “The Government has announced a new White Paper that could be a developers’ charter, relies on a presumption of development, and would strip away the checks and balances alluded to in the petition.
“So we don’t know what will the future look like and it looks like we may have reduced powers.”
Council leader Phil Bialyk, added: “The petition draws to our attention the concerns that made them sign it and it would be silly of us to dismiss this.
“There are a number of concerns and it would be foolish to discount how they are feeling as we need to preserve the historic Exeter.”
Daniel Rudham, a resident who backed the petition, said: “We are seeing many new buildings, particularly high-rise ones, which show little respect for historic Exeter or don’t demonstrably meet local housing needs.
“The thousands who have signed the petition say: stop; listen to the people who live and work here.
“The council must make sure that there are planning rules to ensure Exeter develops in ways which protects our heritage and environment and addresses the needs of local people.
“It’s clear that the council lacks the resources and policies to deal with the threat of international developers taking advantage.
“But they need to make proper use of the powers they do have to ensure architecturally imaginative buildings worthy of a historically important city are built.”
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