Exeter St James Case Study

Progress towards establishing a Neighbourhood Plan.

4 July 2012

Jo Hawkins, the Chair of the Neighbourhood Forum, told me that St James is an Electoral Ward with a population of 6000 close to Exeter University and the City Centre; and wanting to have more of a say in how the area develops in future. Sounds familiar?!

Local residents held a public meeting just over a year ago and decided unanimously to set up an embryonic neighbourhood forum. Their first AGM was held a few days ago when a constitution was agreed. Residents can be full members but people who work in St James or have a stake in the area can have associate membership. In that associate member category are Exeter Students Union, the University Estates Department and John Lewis Partnership who are shortly opening a store there.

The local people did not spend their first year sitting on their hands waiting for the bureaucratic processes to grind forward. Groups of volunteers have been gathering evidence and consulting local opinion. They already have the major strands of what they would like to see in their NP.

Consultation by Exeter City Council on their formal application to be a statutorily recognised Neighbourhood Area ended earlier this week and there were no objections. Next comes their formal application to Exeter City Council to be the Neighbourhood Forum for that Area which goes in next week. By August they should be formally established at last but they will have been hard at work for over 15 months by then.

So what’s likely to be in the Exeter St James plan? It’s worth emphasising that they have been very mindful of the Exeter Local Plan and have enjoyed a very positive relationship with the Council. I can only give you a flavour of what they are proposing. You can see for yourselves on their web site. Among the main headings are the following:

  • Natural Environment – priority will go to the protection of green spaces and biodiversity
  • Design – the lack of waste storage facilities in properties leads to ugly street frontages; so under this heading is included a policy that adequate waste storage facilities will have to be included in planning applications for improvements or alterations to properties. There will also be design requirements for shop fronts and shop signage
  • Community – they will support the Local Plan policies on Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) and seek to encourage affordable housing. To create a greater community focus, a certain cluster of streets will be designated as a local centre. Community facilities valued by residents will be placed on a schedule of assets of community value, requiring the local planning authority to consult the community on developments that affect these assets
  • Promoting Sustainable Development – Among the policies under this heading are those affecting the Cricket and Football Clubs that are designed to recognise these clubs’ need to develop parts of their sites to secure their financial future while securing well designed mixed development.
  • Transport – measures to encourage paths and cycle ways, to create “home zones” safe for children and pedestrians in residential streets and to direct HGV traffic away from residential areas.

There is more detail on the web site which we will list in the post event report. Having largely decided on the policy content of the plan, they invited tenders to write the plan as a formal planning document. The chosen bid was from a professional planner at very reasonable cost which should ensure that their total costs including those of the City Council come in under the £20,000 government grant they received as a Front Runner.

Assuming the Forum is formally approved in August, their chair is confident that the remaining stages will allow for the referendum to take place early in 2013.

What’s interesting about Exeter St James is that they have been completely unfazed by the hurdles they have to jump. They have a good relationship with the City Council. They have been getting on with the work without waiting for all the formal stages to unfold, winning local hearts and minds so that they will be well placed to move ahead once the formal processes of creating a statutory forum are complete. And last but not least, they have a dynamic leader and enthusiastic volunteers.

Clive Booth