Planners agree garage block can be demolished to make way for new flats near Exeter city centre

Planners have given the go-ahead to demolish a garage premises to make way for flats near Exeter city centre.

Exeter’s long-standing ‘town vs gown’ divisions came into play again as Councillors disagreed over an application to build flats in the city, writes local democracy reporter Guy Henderson.

Members of Exeter City Council’s planning committee narrowly gave the go-ahead by five votes to four for a block of up to nine flats on the site of a disused garage in Howell Road, in the heart of Exeter’s university student ‘bedsit land’ of St James.

The city currently houses almost 40,000 students, and half of the properties in the St James area are already in the hands of people studying in Exeter.

Applicant Mr S Williams has already had an application for purpose-built student flats on the site turned down, and is preparing an appeal against that decision. His latest application is for residential accommodation, and not student flats.

He assured councillors that the latest application would not be for students or a house of multiple occupation, but also said the earlier appeal would not be withdrawn even if the new application was approved.

“This isn’t a trick,” he said.“It’s clear that the site is going to be developed. It is not going to be a garage any more.

“Student flats are what we want to build, but if we can’t do that, we will build the residential scheme.”

Cllr Martin Pearce (Lab, Duryard and St James) said the discussion was ‘bittersweet’.

He went on: “If this is granted now, will it come to fruition? I have got no faith that it will, because if the appeal is successful, student accommodation the community does not want or need will be brought forward.”

He said the city’s massive amount of student accommodation had created a ‘hugely detrimental’ impact, and added: “It means we have lost so much of our housing stock to one short-term cohort.

“We desperately need these homes but they will not be delivered. If these were going to be homes for local people it would be fantastic, but I fear that will not happen.”

Cllr Michael Mitchell (Lib Dem, Duryard and St James) told the meeting: “The community is concerned about the potential end users of this housing.

“If they are occupied by students at the end of the day, people will feel that we have let them down.”

And Cllr Anne Jobson (Con St Loyes) added: “Had this been an application by a housing association I’d have been waving my hand in favour, but it’s not.”

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