Plans to redevelop the Harlequins shopping centre in Exeter into a ‘co-living’ scheme and hotel with bar and restaurant have been approved.
Proposals – believed to be the first of their king in the South West – were given the go-ahead by city councillors this week after three hours of debate.
Applicant Curlew can now redevelop the site into two blocks.
The first of these would feature a total of 251 co-living bedrooms, including flats that can be rented by students and non-students.
A 116-room hotel with bar and restaurant will make up the second block.
The scheme will also see a ‘pocket park’ created and the pedestrian bridge over Paul Street replaced with a modern, lightweight new structure.
Exeter City Council’s planning committee voted to approve the scheme by nine votes to four on Monday night.
This was despite 375 of the 379 formal comments on the application objecting to the bid.
Councillor Diana Moore, who represents the St David’s ward, also called for the plans to be refused.
She said: “The design, scale and mass of the co-living block and hotel won’t make a positive contribution to the area and will be overbearing on heritage assets.
“What evidence do we have this will contribute to housing supply numbers, as this is student flats but in a new name?
“This is an ideal site for new housing and we know Exeter has a shortage of affordable housing, but only 20 per cent of affordable rooms, no social housing, and no off-site provision fails to go any way to meeting the needs.
“The overbearing development will have a significant negative impact on heritage. This is not a good development for Exeter – please reject the application.”
Cllr Yolanda Henson added: “This is not in the right place as it will dominate the area. We have the chance in a prestige site to decide what type of building goes there and we need something that fits in the area.”
Cllr Rob Hannaford said: “I am concerned about what it will means for people and the longer-term implications for younger people who could be in these units for months if not years.
“The idea that any of our young people can have a life that can be scooped up in two bin bags is not the vision I have for our young people or Exeter.”
But Cllr Bob Foale said: “We have too many kids leaving the university and going back to mum and dad, staff at the RD and E who need accommodation; we suffer the brain drain. We need to make this a success.”
Cllr Phil Bialyk added: “Exeter has a pressing need for accommodation to meet our housing needs and our challenge is to provide it in sufficient numbers.
He added: “There is evidence for demand for this sort of co-living and young people have not got a chance of getting on the housing ladder.
“To give them an opportunity to live this way will keep younger people in the city. I really do think this is a move in the right direction.”
Cllr Amal Ghusain added: “Every development is a compromise and, on the whole, this is 55 per cent positive versus 45 per cent negative.”
The application was approved on the condition a legal agreement over the management, maintenance, repair and promotion of the City Wall and public open spaces within the area is signed within six months.
A Curlew spokesperson said after the meeting: “We are pleased that Exeter City Council’s planning committee has resolved to grant consent for our proposals to redevelop the Harlequins Centre.
“The site has long been earmarked for redevelopment and we have worked long and hard with the council, Historic England and other local stakeholders.”
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