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WHAT NEXT FOR THE NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN?
The failure of the Judge to uphold the Forum’s view, that Exeter City Council had frustrated the intentions of the Localism Act 2011 and the Exeter St James Neighbourhood Plan by granting planning consent to build yet more student accommodation as part of the proposed Football Club development, came as a profound disappointment. The judgement indicates that the University’s planned expansion and accompanying need for student accommodation are material grounds for overriding the Neighbourhood Plan (click here to see the full judgement).
The much vaunted promise that localism would deliver decision-making powers into the hands of local communities via democratically formulated Neighbourhood Plans has proved hollow. Our Neighbourhood Plan, a front-runner promoted by Ministers as an example to others, was overwhelmingly endorsed by referendum and adopted as part of the statutory planning process in 2013. The culmination of residents’ enthusiasm and hard work over a two year period, its aim was to deliver the long term goal of a balanced and vibrant neighbourhood in the face of ever-increasing student numbers. Central to the Plan is the concept of community balance: the desire of permanent residents to have a diverse and sustainable population which includes people at all stages of their lives and which is not dominated by a single group of the population. The Football Club development will increase the current student population to an estimated 57% in direct conflict with both NP Policy SD1 and the aspirations of local residents.
A further blow was that our application for a Protective Costs Order was also turned down on the grounds that the matters raised were not of national importance. This decision is difficult to understand as we argued that the issue of weight given to Neighbourhood Plans in the planning process was indeed one of national significance and of relevance to neighbourhood planning across the country. Although made liable for Exeter City Council’s costs, we were deemed not responsible for those of the developer or the Football Club and our own costs were minimal thanks to the pro bono advice received from barrister Gavin Collett of Magdalen Chambers, Exeter. Consequently we are now faced with a bill for £4,000 and as a community organisation without assets we would be grateful for any donations from members and other interested parties to assist us in meeting these costs.
PLEASE HELP IF YOU CAN - DETAILS IN THE PANEL BELOW
In light of this judgement we are urgently seeking a meeting with the Minister for Housing and Planning at the Department for Communities and Local Government in order to question why when put to the test our Neighbourhood Plan delivered neither residents’ wishes nor what Government promised. We will press for parliamentary commitment to localism so that Neighbourhood Plans really do have teeth and that their policies carry significant legal weight.
In the meantime despite this undeniable setback the Forum will continue through its various working groups and panels to strive to make St James a better place in which to live and work. We remain committed to the Neighbourhood Plan and will continue to endeavour to ensure that its policies are not readily set aside.
SUCCESSFUL FIFTH AGM
Exeter St James Forum held a very successful 5th AGM on 2 July, with Members voting unanimously in favour of the Forum's continuation beyond its initial 5 year term.
Members' spontaneous ringing endorsement of the legal action taken by the Steering Group provided a resounding rebuttal to claims by the Chairman of Exeter City Football Club, reported in the E&E, that the SG had acted without the support of Forum members.
Click here for the Forum's statement to the AGM regarding the St James Park Development.
Other issues raised by Members included parking and especially the difficulties caused during term time with the huge influx of student cars.The meeting was informed that the University is currently consulting over its draft Travel Plan with a very tight deadline of 8 July although it was not clear whether this consultation is exclusively for councillors. It was also reported that a petition is available online concerning the E&E's call for the University to ban, rather than simply discourage, students from bringing a car to Exeter. If you are interested please click here.
Draft minutes of the AGM are available here.
TEA IN THE PARK: Celebrations in Queen's Crescent Garden
A great time was had by all who came to Queen's Crescent Garden on the afternoon of Saturday 25 June to celebrate the improvements completed with the government's Pocket Park funding earlier this year. As well as the very popular refreshment stall with delicious home made cakes, and a plant stall overflowing with plants of all descriptions, our friends from The Mosque organised a table top sale, face painting, henna painting, Arabic name writing and more! Prints relating to St James or Exeter, more widely, produced by our resident professional graphic artist, Aylwyn Bowen, proved a great attraction with many visitors hoping to win one in a special treasure map draw, and 10 people going away very happy! Theia, the Little Owl, behaved perfectly and drew much admiring attention, but the biggest draw of all must surely have been the choir of St Sidwell's C of E Primary School, who sang their hearts out for us all, with songs of the outside, sunshine and insects!
As well as familiar faces it was very good to welcome new faces and to receive many requests for membership, with appreciation expressed for all the Forum is doing.
Thank you to all who made this event such a success. As well as having a good time, a profit of £407.43 was raised for QCG funds! Well done everyone!
WELL STREET STUDENT DEVELOPMENT: Planning Application Refused
It came as a pleasant surprise to everyone when the Planning Officer's Report to the Planning Committee was published that, counter to all prior indications given by the case officers, the recommendation was REFUSAL on the grounds of St James Neighbourhood Plan Policy C2a. This states that large scale Purpose Built Student Accommodation (over 10 beds) in St James will be permitted only in areas that are not predominantly characterised by intact streets of traditional terraced, semi-detached and detached forms of 2-3 storey residential development.
This decision was confirmed at the Planning Committee meeting on 27 June and is a notable victory for the Neighbourhood Plan, representing the first time that refusal has been recommended solely because of a Policy of the Plan.
However - as the Forum and the majority of objectors, including the Civic Society, also made clear - an even more important reason to refuse the application was that of increasing community imbalance. Picking up on this issue and others, Cllrs. Keith Owen and Kevin Mitchell both spoke at the meeting, making their points very clearly and requesting Planning Members to consider including this issue in the Reasons for Refusal. Cllr. Percy Prowse, a member of Planning Committee, also spoke in support of the Forum and whole community on the matter of imbalance and the failure of Article 4 to control HMO conversion let alone community balance.
It was, therefore, finally agreed that the Reasons for Refusal would be strengthened with the addition of reference to the issue of community balance.
As so often in such cases, the Developer or Applicant may decide to appeal the decision, so for now we await further news.
QUEEN'S CRESCENT GARDEN
A Significant Milestone in the Queen's Crescent Garden's Compulsory Purchase Process has been Reached!
Exeter City Council has completed the draft Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) of Queen's Crescent Garden against an unknown owner, it has been through a technical examination by Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), and is now being advertised in the Express and Echo and in the vicinity of the Garden. The Notice and additional information can also be found on the Council's website (click to view).
Over the next 3 weeks, by 24 June 2016, we must wait while any serious contester to the Order is given opportunity to register their challenge with DCLG. ECC has stated that: 'Should a good claim to the Land be forthcoming through the CPO process, then the Council would seek to negotiate by agreement and would ensure that it was clearly understood that the claimant would be expected to undertake future maintenance responsibility for the Land if the claimant retains control.'
It has been a long road to travel since 2011 when St James' residents were consulted during the early days of the neighbourhood planning process and the desire to create a much-needed heart to the Community was identified. The potential of Queen's Crescent Garden to help achieve this soon became recognised. The degree of enthusiasm to make this precious open space its own, transforming it from the sadly-neglected eyesore and haven only for anti-social activity that it had become over a number of years, into a beautiful space enjoyed and open for use by everyone in St James, became evident when the Community voted it top priority of a long list of projects designed to make St James an even better place to live and work.
With excellent support from Exeter City Council the Garden was protected with designation as a Local Green Space and in December 2012 Council Executive resolved to support the determination of St James' residents to regenerate the Garden by carrying out compulsory purchase, should it be necessary, in order that the Community could take legal responsibility for the land.
Since then the Council has carried out exhaustive research in an attempt to identify a current owner with whom, initially, to negotiate a purchase. With every avenue leading to a dead-end, it became clear that the only way forward would be a CPO against an unknown owner.
Meanwhile, the Project Group has undertaken each pre-requisite as advised by the Council:
• Exeter St James Community Trust Ltd was set up as a suitable body to become leaseholder following completion of the CPO.
• Legal advice was sought and Keith Biggs of OTB Eveling kindly agreed to negotiate draft Heads of Terms with ECC, at no cost, in preparation for the eventual drawing up and signing of a long term lease with ECC as owner.
• The commitment and competence of the Forum's QCG Project Group was confirmed through bidding successfully for funding in order to develop, with thorough community consultation, a suitable professional Masterplan for the Garden, supported by a Delivery Strategy that demonstrated the Masterplan was realisable.
• Planning consent was obtained for Change of Use from Private Open Space to Public Open Space.
In April 2016 Council Executive once again considered making the Compulsory Purchase Order, and Members spoke very supportively before unanimously resolving to give the go-ahead.
Should anyone with a good claim come forward before the 24 June, and object to the purchase, then a Public Inquiry would become necessary. However, should no objections be received by DCLG, it is conceivable that the lease might be signed by ESJCT Ltd later this year.
WILL WE HAVE AN ADDITIONAL REASON TO CELEBRATE AT OUR 'TEA in the PARK' EVENT ON 25 JUNE? LET'S HOPE SO!
(Click here to see Noticeboard for details)
QCG Project Group is very grateful to ECC for preparing the CPO and for undertaking all the work necessary to reach this significant milestone.
Welcome to the Exeter St James Forum website where we bring you news, features, information and announcements about a Neighbourhood Plan to enhance the area in which we live.
The Government has introduced new planning policies which have given more power to local people. The Localism Act was given Royal Assent in November 2011 and communities are being encouraged to prepare neighbourhood plans to influence what happens in their area.
A group of residents’ associations and individuals, representing most parts of St James, joined forces as the Exeter St James Forum with the aim of preparing a Neighbourhood Plan for the ward. Following a two year process the Plan received a 'Big Yes Vote' in a referendum on, 2 May 2013. The now fully adopted plan sets out a vision for St James and our priorities for the future. Exeter City Council and Devon County Council will take the plan into account when making planning and development decisions. The plan should also help the community to secure funding for projects to improve the area. Find out more.
The three key priorities are...
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About St James Issue 1
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To adverise your business here and support the high profile Queen's Crescent Garden Project please get in touch CLICK. Just £50 a year! Includes a link to your website and insertion in "About St James" the joint Trust/Forum newsletter delivered twice a year to every household in St James
WELL, WELL, WELL..Find out more about the ancient holy well discovered in Well Street
EXETER St JAMES NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN
Following on from a Big Yes vote for Exeter St James Neighbourhood Plan on 2nd May 2013, the Plan was officially adopted by Exeter City Council on 16 July 2013. Find out more in Newsletter 18
The Plan now forms part of Exeter’s statutory development plans and the policies it contains will be used to help determine planning applications.
Congratulations from Nick Boles MP & Right Hon Don Foster MP CLICK
See the Neighbourhood Plan Main Document CLICK