Public backing for bid to turn former Exeter golf course into ‘green treasure’ wildlife haven sees council move to proceed with project

Public support for a bid to turn a former Exeter golf course into a green haven has seen city councillors agree to continue the project with Devon Wildlife Trust.

A consultation earlier this year explored how best to enhance the former Northbrook Approach site off Topsham Road, writes Local Democracy Reporter Ollie Heptinstall.

The authority’s executive backed an idea for a ‘wild arboretum’ early in 2020 after an initial bid to sell the land was scrapped.

It would feature wildlife habitats, trees and wildflower meadows and the public has been asked what it wants to see and how to enhance the area.

Some 96 per cent of the 755 responses to a consultation supported an arboretum.

Ninety-two per cent said they would go there to enjoy walks, views and the tranquillity. Protecting the green space and wildlife corridor was the top priority for future use.

Devon Wildlife Trust’s Peter Burgess told Exeter City Council’s executive: “Something we’ve recognised is how critical these green spaces have been for everyone during this period.

“Lots of people have found parks for the first time; they’ve explored them and they’re places for quiet relaxation – to rewind, to recharge.”

Proposals also include strengthening the ‘wildlife corridor’ linking Northbrook with the neighbouring Ludwell Valley and Riverside parks and a ‘visitor hub’.

Wildflower meadows with newly-planted trees, a community orchard and a project to allow the park’s stream to ‘re-naturalise’ are also on the table.

Exwick representative Councillor Phil Bialyk said: “Right at the start of this administration, I met with the people in that Countess Weir area. I assured them we weren’t going to build on it, I assured people who were asking me, we were going to consult properly on it and I believe we’ve done that.”

He added the vision was ‘this group delivering on our promise on what we do’ and added: “I’m sorry it took two-and-a-half years – it takes time, but we got there in the end, so I am proud of what we’ve done on this situation.”

St Thomas ward member Cllr Laura Wright said the plan was ‘absolutely fabulous’ and suggest people could buy trees for family and friends to raise funds.

A car park was rated the lowest ‘access’ priority with only six per cent of consultation respondents ranking it as ‘very important’.

Cllr Wright hoped disabled parking spaces could be included ‘so that people aren’t disadvantaged if they aren’t able to walk here, because it would be such a shame if they weren’t able to benefit from it’.

Asked about linking the site with Ludwell Valley, Mr Burgess said the connections were already ‘quite strong’ but that improvements – like pelican crossings – can be made.

Exwick representative Cllr Rachel Sutton described the bid as an ‘exciting opportunity’, adding: “It has been a source of wondering delight to actually discover quite how much wildlife there is down there and hearing woodpeckers literally yards from Topsham Road.”

Pinhoe councillor Duncan Wood said: “It’s going to be a green treasure to the city, looking after our health, helping towards our reaching 2030 [net-zero carbon target], but also a lovely place to go.”

Members agreed to note the consultation outcome and approved in principle the next steps, which involve potential designs and detailed costings.

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