Forum Statement ECFC Development
FORUM STATEMENT: ST JAMES PARK DEVELOPMENT
The most important objective of the Exeter St James Neighbourhood Plan is to improve community balance by preventing the continuing studentification of the St James Ward. Community balance has been rightly described as the thread that runs through the Neighbourhood Plan.
Following detailed consultations with local residents, the City Council (who guided the Forum through the process), the Football Club and the University a draft plan was prepared, scrutinised by an independent examiner and approved. That draft plan was not opposed by the University or the Football Club.
It was put to the people of St James Ward in a referendum in May 2013 and achieved a 92% approval rate. The Plan was adopted by Exeter City Council and became a key planning document with statutory force, part of Exeter’s Local Development Plan, to be considered in all planning applications within the Ward.
The Forum believes that the St James Neighbourhood Plan should carry considerable weight in any planning application. This belief derives from statements made in the House of Commons, a letter written to local MP, Ben Bradshaw, and the National Planning Policy Framework:
- On 5th April 2016 Brandon Lewis MP, Minister of State for Housing and Planning, stated in a letter to the MP, “Where a planning application conflicts with a neighbourhood plan that had been brought into force, planning permission should not normally be granted.”
- In the House of Commons on 3rd May 2016 Mr Lewis stated, “A neighbourhood plan brought into legal force is part of the development plan and must be the starting point for authorities’ decisions on applications. I want to be very clear that neighbourhood plans have weight in law.”
- Paragraph 185 of the National Planning Policy Framework states: “Once a neighbourhood plan has demonstrated its general conformity with the strategic policies of the Local Plan and is brought into force, the policies it contains take precedence over existing non-strategic policies in the Local Plan for that neighbourhood.”
The Forum was dismayed when the key objective of the Neighbourhood Plan – community balance - was ignored when Exeter City Council granted planning permission for the Cricket Club Development in 2014. When plans for the old “Centre Spot” area and the Yeo and Davey site provided for a single block of student flats it was made clear from the start of the planning process that this would be opposed. The Forum is not against the development of that site; housing for families, young professionals and retired people could be included together with an element of student housing. There is no doubt that Exeter needs family homes in the Centre of the City – there are over 4,000 people waiting for housing and there are many working people of all ages who cannot find affordable housing.
The Forum believes that the City Council did not give proper weight to the Neighbourhood Plan at the Planning Meeting on 8th February 2016. It was delighted when the Minister of State agreed to see if this particular development was one that could be called in for determination, but disappointed when he decided it was one that should be left to local decision-making.
Consequently the Forum agreed to issue a pre-action letter and invite talks. The key elements to any successful talks, consistent with Neighbourhood Plan policy, would be the height, mass and scale of the building and the issue of community balance. The developer rejected consideration of either issue and was seemingly not prepared to compromise.
The Forum was left with little choice, other than on one hand to concede that the Neighbourhood Plan was a worthless document in so far as consideration of community balance was concerned or on the other hand stand up for the Plan and the residents of St James. This Plan, you are reminded, was not opposed by the Council, the Football Club or the University. Proceedings were therefore issued.
The Forum makes it clear that, if the developer is interested in entering into meaningful talks as to the issues of scale, mass and height together with the issue of creating a residential element within the scheme, it would be pleased to resume talks. The Forum regrets that the continued intransigence of the developer is hindering regeneration of the Football Club and sincerely hopes that the developer will reconsider its position.
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