Residents back vision for ‘wild arboretum’ at closed Exeter golf course

Proposals to turn a shut Exeter pitch and putt golf course into a ‘wild arboretum’ have won overwhelmingly support from residents following a public consultation. 

Northbrook Approach Golf Course, in Topsham Road, could be transformed and enriched with wildflowers, new trees, a community orchard and wetlands, ponds and pools to enhance biodiversity.

Exeter City Council and Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT) have joined forces in the hope of converting the land into a tranquil, wildlife-rich green space featuring a ‘wild arboretum’.

Some 96 per cent of people who responded to a public consultation backed the bid.

And 92 per cent of respondents said they would visit to enjoy walks, views and peace and quiet – while protecting the green space and wildlife corridor was the top priority identified for future use.

The former Northbrook Approach Golf Course. Image: Exeter City Council

The former Northbrook Approach Golf Course. Image: Exeter City Council

Councillor David Harvey, lead  for city management, said: “I’d like to thank everybody who took part in the consultation and it was very encouraging to see such large numbers responding.

“I’m particularly pleased that the broad concept of creating a wild arboretum was extremely well received – with an amazing 96 per cent in favour.

“The consultation also raised a lot of other suggestions on how best to enhance this wonderful space, and we will now take time to fully digest the responses we’ve received before progressing further with proposals for the site.”

The vision for the former Northbrook Approach site includes:

  • A ‘wild arboretum’ – the tree-studded parkland would be enriched with wildflowers and newly-planted standard trees;
  • A community orchard – orchard trees providing fruit for local communities to harvest;
  • ‘Wilding the Northbrook’ – new wetlands, ponds and pools would provide space for people to access the water’s edge and observe the range of wildlife supported;
  • ‘Linking greenspaces – DWT would manage the site to enhance its critical role as a crucial green corridor between the Ludwell and Riverside valley parks, and as a pivotal link for people to enjoy these local green spaces and to explore further afield;
  • A hub for learning and communities – the Riverside and Ludwell Masterplan identified the need for visitor hubs. DWT and the city council have begun to discuss options for siting a flagship visitor facility at Riverside.

A report will now be produced in the autumn to outline the next steps.

The vision document says: “Without the constraints of a golf course there is an opportunity to bring the parkland to life as a stunning space for visitors to enjoy and to interact with wildlife.

“DWT proposes to create a high-carrying capacity site where we would establish new all-weather pathways and trails to help people to explore the whole site, include benches and pause points where people can gather, play, or simply enjoy the scenery.

“We would introduce natural play, establish wildflower meadows amongst the trees to provide stunning displays and to help many more insects and pollinators to thrive, plant and nurture new trees and orchards to support many more species for the long-term, and encourage people to enjoy the blossom and pick the fruit.”

On the visitor hub idea, the document says: “The key driver for this is the huge potential at Riverside to draw visitors from around the city as well as beyond, to connect with the nearby historic Quayside and activity hub at Haven Banks, and to open up the Riverside Valley Park as a flagship green space for natural activity and leisure.

“Refreshment facilities at Bromham’s Farm Field would enable visitors to stay longer and do more in this special place and we would provide trails, leisure facilities, natural play and opportunities for outdoor pursuits on and around an enhanced wetland site on the Exe River and Canal banks.

“We would aim for around 100,000 visitors each year.”

The vision concludes: “The Northbrook Approach site presents a fantastic opportunity to establish, enhance and safeguard a crucial natural infrastructure corridor in the city and it holds the key to unlocking the greatest potential of the two largest Valley Parks, Riverside and Ludwell.

“This is a perfect opportunity to work together to develop a proposal for the future of this strategically crucial site.

“We propose to work in partnership to engage a diverse range of communities and stakeholders in the local area about the potential for the site as a Wild Arboretum and a community space.”

The former Northbrook Approach Golf Course. Image: Exeter City Council

The former Northbrook Approach Golf Course. Image: Exeter City Council

Peter Burgess, director of nature recovery at Devon Wildlife Trust, said: “We’re delighted that so many people in Exeter have responded and share our enthusiasm to help make this special place wilder and give many more people access to nature on their doorstep.

“Having tranquil spaces to unwind and recharge is more important now than ever before.

“It’s great that people also recognise the importance of this site in the local landscape as a crucial connection between Ludwell and Riverside, for people and wildlife.

“We’re very much looking forward to working with the City Council to develop this vision into a plan, and ensuring communities are at the heart of shaping its future, which I’m sure will be a bright one.”

Former proposals initially revealed early in 2019 would have seen the golf course closed and the land disposed of. However, that decision was swiftly reversed.

Exeter city councillors then backed the green space scheme in February 2020.

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