Exeter city planners agree the build of ‘overbearing’ university accommodation for 2,000 students

Exeter University has been given the go-ahead to build a huge new housing development for more than 2,000 students despite angry protests from local residents who say their homes will be overlooked, writes local democracy reporter Guy Henderson.

The 12-strong Exeter City Council planning committee was tied at six votes for and six against, forcing chairman Cllr Paul Knott (Lab, Exwick) to use his casting vote to give the university and developers UPP the green light.

The decision caused dismay in the public gallery. Members of the committee were being asked at Monday’s meeting (June 19) to agree details of a scheme which already had outline permission. Last month, the committee deferred the decision to this meeting.

Some Councillors asked if the position of one of the buildings – labelled ‘ST’ – could be changed to stop its windows overlooking neighbours, but they were told it had already been settled in the earlier outline permission.

The initial outline application for the proposed Clydesdale, Nash and Birks Grange Village halls of residence on the Streatham Campus was supported by the committee in 2021 when it was said to deliver an extra 1,250 student bedrooms.

But the detailed application presented to the committee included more bed spaces, with a net increase of 1,769 spaces from the eight new ‘West Park’ blocks.  A total of 2,061 new bed spaces would be created following the removal or demolition of 292 existing ones.

Local people say block ST, on the steep slope known locally as ‘Cardiac Hill’, will ‘massively impact’ them.

Cllr Martin Pearce (Lab, Duryard and St James) read a statement from objectors which questioned the information given on the height of the proposed buildings and the distance between them and nearby homes.

He said: “For years to come it will mean residents complaining about students, and students getting annoyed at being told off, all of which could easily be avoided with some thoughtful, clever design solutions.

“That building in that location is absolutely overbearing for these people. You can understand why they feel so aggrieved.”

University registrar Mike Shore-Nye insisted that building heights and distances from neighbours complied with requirements, and said the new buildings would provide significant value and economic benefits.

Cllr Rob Hannaford (Lab, St Thomas) said: “We are very lucky to have Exeter University, and we are very conscious that we want it to thrive and develop in a responsible way.

“Re-calibrating this building would go an enormous way towards making it acceptable to the local community. We could have students looking at students, and not students looking at residents.”

And Cllr Michael Mitchell (Lib Dem, Duryard and St James) went on: “We are a city with a university, not a university with a city attached. We need to make sure it remains in harmony with our residents.”

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