Exeter has developed rapidly during the past decade, significantly outperforming the region to become its principal economic engine and the UK’s fastest growing city. It has long been the sub-regional economic and cultural capital, acting as principal administrative and professional services centre, but its Travel To Work Area has expanded in recent years to encompass a population bigger than Bristol distributed across an area larger than London.
With 35,000 new homes planned in and around Exeter and 60 hectares of new business land expected to come on stream, pressure on infrastructure that is already struggling will increase considerably. Unless significant change takes place, this is likely to become a major barrier to growth and productivity enhancement.
Major developments on the edge of the city such as the 28,000 square metre Ikea warehouse will, despite aiming at generating 100% of its energy needs from renewables, also supply parking for 1000 cars and generate 390,000 linked journeys into the city centre each year.
Most currently approved residential development is also taking place on city’s periphery, following the sprawling low-rise suburban patterns that can only create further traffic congestion problems in the absence of significant public transport alternatives. Garage provision is prominent in the marketing for many of the houses currently being completed in these locations.
At the same time, scarce city centre development land is being used for Purpose Built Student Accommodation, despite its part-time occupation by transient tenants who contribute little to economic growth, rather than the private residential housing that is needed to encourage skilled workers into the city.
The prospective Greater Exeter Strategic Plan is intended to provide a spatial strategy and housing and employment land use plan for the area up to 2040. A draft is due in early 2018 following a 2017 issues consultation. An EU-funded project led by Devon County Council intends to supply a complementary transport strategy for the Exeter area. A consultation draft is also due in early 2018. Both documents add to an already complex strategic landscape.
This series of articles aims to consider Exeter’s strategic options around housing, energy, transport and health by focussing on mobility, congestion, pollution and sedentary lifestyles, public realm and place-making, development density and the economic prosperity that becomes possible when ambitious responses to these spatial challenges are adopted.
Cars adversely affect economic output, air quality and wellbeing, take up valuable space when parked and discourage people from walking and cycling when driven. Reducing their use would enhance Exeter's retail and leisure offer, improve public health and attract needed workers to the city.
Property development in Exeter city centre is routinely displacing independent shops, creating significant risk and cost for affected businesses. Recent casualties include The Real Food Store, Hyde+Seek and The Exeter Barber Shop, which will soon have to move for the second time in three years. Is Exeter a good place to start a small retail business?
The decades leading to the 2010 coalition government saw the UK become one of the most centralised democracies in the developed world. Unelected Local Enterprise Partnerships then replaced Labour's Regional Development Agencies, increasing the democratic deficit and leaving the low density South West at structural financial disadvantage.
Princesshay and Queen Street dining offer 21 food and drink outlets between them, all of them chains. A fortnight after further Guildhall development was recently announced, locally-owned Urban Burger was offered for sale at less than £100,000 after twelve years of trading. Would the city's culinary culture benefit from more independent restaurants?
The Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership that emerged from the 2010 scramble to replace the Regional Development Agency has struggled for strategic relevance. Sub-regional authorities have since formed more appropriate ad hoc development strategy groupings that coincide with functional market areas.
Stalled South West devolution has allowed organisations to propose arbitrary spatial frames that suit their competing regional leadership agendas. The resulting confusion of brands has in turn allowed policy-makers to outline super-regional strategies that overlook distinct place-based development needs without improving public funding prospects.