The Greater Exeter Strategic Plan. What will it mean for Feniton?

Keen followers of planning within East Devon will know that four councils (East Devon District Council, Exeter City Council, Teignbridge District Council and Mid-Devon District Council) have been working closely for some years to produce an integrated plan for housing development within the area around Exeter.

The purpose of working together on the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP) has been to speak as one voice at Westminster to achieve the levels of funding required for infrastructure, mostly notably on the rail and road networks.

Government policy calls for ever increasing numbers of houses (full market and affordable housing) and employment land. Housing numbers are ‘handed down’ to districts from national Government and it is impossible to argue against the numbers in an effort to reduce them.

Planners working on GESP issued a ‘call for sites’ (basically by contacting landowners to see if they were willing to put their land forward for development) for sites of 500 homes or more.

Within East Devon, development is constrained by two-thirds of the district being protected landscapes (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty of the Blackdown Hills and East Devon AONB), which inevitably means that the ‘northwest quadrant’ of the district is the most suitable place for development.

In addition, transport corridors are a factor – in particular communities benefitting from a railway station were identified, the thinking being that people travelling to work can use the most sustainable means of transport possible. (Obviously within the hierarchy of sustainability working from home is the most sustainable, then walking, then cycling, then train or bus and finally the car.)

GESP will be discussed at length at Strategic Planning Committee on Thursday, 23 July. Members of the public are welcome to attend via Zoom and there is a 15-minute period at the start of the meeting to address the committee. The meeting will also be aired on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/user/eastdevoncouncil1).

I have long argued, and will continue to do so, that Feniton (and indeed Whimple) are not the most sustainable locations because the train service is infrequent. Plans are being formulated to build the ‘Whimple passing loop’ which would theoretically increase the number of trains using the Exeter to Waterloo line and provide a half-hourly service.

However, there are two significant issues with the passing loop, and until these are resolved I cannot see that Feniton can be considered a sustainable location. Firstly, the cost. This is absolutely crippling. Despite this project having been on the drawing board for well over a decade, with questions having been asked in the House of Commons, sources of funding have not been identified, and given the huge amount the Government has committed during the Covid crisis, it is to be wondered if it’ll be a priority. Secondly, the current proposal envisages that trains would not necessarily stop at all stations … in other words, Feniton is unlikely to benefit to any considerable extent from the new passing loop.

However, despite all of the above, Feniton is vulnerable. The sustainability of the village has already been tested at the super inquiry of 2014 and was not deemed a suitable location for large-scale development. However, there will inevitably have to be some development in Feniton, probably through the Local Plan process, rather than GESP. The GESP plan (www.gesp.org.uk/) runs to 2040 so can be considered to be a high-level, long-term plan. Running alongside GESP, each of the four Councils has a Local Plan. The current one for East Devon runs to 2031.

Meanwhile, the four councils, with their new administrations in place, are seeking agreement of Councillors to progress the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan by putting the plan out for consultation in September. If this is agreed, it will be another opportunity to make views known.

The following press release is being sent out this afternoon by East Devon District Council.

Councils to consider Greater Exeter Plan proposals

East Devon District Council’s Strategic Planning committee will meet on Thursday 23 July to discuss plan

East Devon, Exeter, Mid Devon and Teignbridge councils are all considering whether to begin the next round of consultation on the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP).  Exeter City Council is the first of the authorities to discuss the proposals at a meeting next Tuesday 7 July and they published the GESP document today. (Monday June 29)

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the first opportunity for East Devon District Council’s Strategic Planning committee to meet and view the proposals is on Thursday 23 July. The council has committed to nothing more than deciding whether to take part in the consultations on the plan which would take place from September.

The GESP proposals include draft planning policies and large scale development options across all four council areas for the next twenty years up to 2040. It will tackle big planning issues affecting the Greater Exeter area, of which East Devon is part. The GESP will also identify possible development sites across the area, including large regeneration sites in Exeter.

Cllr Paul Arnott, East Devon District Council’s Leader, said: “The last councils of 2015-19, and 2019-20, took part in an internal discussion with other councils about co-operating as a joint planning entity.

“With a new administration for 2020-21, this is to be considered at the Strategic Planning committee on 23rd July in the emerging post-Covid-19 context and we will need to assess it anew in light of the possible changed shape of housing need and the economy.

“Our friends at Exeter have begun to discuss the GESP document analysing the call for sites, but of course, until our own Strategic Planning committee discusses the next steps the district council’s position on going out to consultation is not yet decided.”

Teignbridge District Council will discuss the proposals on Tuesday 21 July, and Mid Devon District Council on Thursday 6 August.

The councils have been asked to carry out the consultation from September, which was originally planned for June, following Government advice that planning authorities should continue despite Covid-19.  The consultation would ask for the public to have their say on the draft policies and site options, which would influence the next stage.

Further information about the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan is available on the GESP website which is www.gesp.org.uk/

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Feniton flood scheme falls foul of Covid-19

It will come as no surprise, but still the news will be hard to hear.

Very sadly, Feniton flood scheme will not be going ahead at the beginning of May. See press release below from East Devon District Council which explains the background to the decision:

Feniton undertrack rail crossing temporarily on hold due to Coronavirus health risk

East Devon District Council has made the tough but correct decision to postpone the Feniton undertrack rail crossing (Phase 3), which was due to be completed in early May 2020.

Given the current and forecast Corona Virus situation, the council has taken the proactive step to postpone non-essential construction work to reduce health risks to workers, local healthcare staff, and local residents.

East Devon appreciates all the hard work that the Network Rail team has put in to reach the current stage of the project, and looks forward to working with them to make sure everything is in place for the next possession window.

Although clearly a delay for phase 3, the fourth and final phase was not due to begin until March 2021, so the overall delay to the scheme completion is minimal.

The council’s project team will be working hard to ensure that both phase 3 and 4 can be delivered as soon as practically possible

Commenting on the delay, Cllr Geoff Jung, East Devon District Council’s portfolio holder for the environment, said:

“I totally understand that we have to make this decision to delay phase 3 of the Feniton scheme, during the Covid 19 Emergency.

“I would stress that this is a temporary delay and that we are totally committed to completing the Feniton Flood scheme as well all the other flood and sea defence schemes that we have currently in hand.

Cllr Ben Ingham, the Leader of East Devon District Council, said:

“It is a tremendous shame that we have to postpone this vital project for Feniton, especially in light of the hard work to get us this far. However, we cannot take high risks so there must be a delay. But we will be back.”

Cllr Peter Faithfull, Deputy Portfolio Holder for the Environment, said:

“While it is extremely frustrating to have to make the decision to delay this work, the risk of flooding has to be placed second to the risk of Covid-19 for both the workers and the residents.”

Feniton ward member, Cllr Susie Bond, said:

“This is hugely disappointing, but not unexpected, news given the national emergency in which we find ourselves. We shall look forward to hearing more positive news once the crisis is over and we can work with Network Rail in finding a new possession window.”

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Update on Feniton flood alleviation scheme

Phase 3 (under-track crossing)

All is looking good for the under-track crossing to be completed in early May.

Network Rail’s contractors are booked in to carry out the rail possession over the weekend of 1–3 May, which means that no trains will run over that weekend, with a bus replacement service in place.

From approximately midnight on Friday 1 May, there will be a 48-hour non-stop period of activity and noise on the site. This will have an impact on people living nearby, but given the nature of the works, this cannot really be avoided.

Network Rail is expected to be on site from early April, but only working normal working hours going forward (including Saturdays). There will be considerable activity around the Green Lane entrance to the site and it might be wise to find an alternative route to avoid delays in car journey times.

It is anticipated that the culvert under the railway line will be installed, then once the possession is over and the track is open again as normal, Network Rail will continue to work on the manholes at either end of the crossing (but during normal work hours).

Part of the works will include changing the gate entrance to the site.

Phase 4, the remainder of the scheme

The funding for phase 4 is not currently guaranteed, so East Devon District Council will be looking for assistance from the Parish Council and local residents. We need to put as much political pressure on our MPs as possible to ensure the funding is granted.

The Government will soon announce some revised funding rules which it is hoped will make it easier for projects to claim additional monies and we need to make sure that Feniton’s scheme is at the front of the queue.

To underpin the grant application, we need to collect a reasonable number of letters from residents/parish councillors/flood wardens to demonstrate the stress, worry and anxiety caused every time it rains, as well as how much effort is put into trying to reduce flooding via the volunteer flood warden scheme.

We also need to justify the mental anguish caused by actual flooding, as well as being put at risk of flooding, as a further grant allowance is available for impacts on mental health. Many will find it difficult to write this sort of letter, but it would help the cause immeasurably if some residents are able to do this.

The flood scheme was discussed at Feniton Parish Council meeting on Monday 9 March and the parish clerk, Alison Marshall, has kindly agreed to receive lobbying emails from residents and will collate them into a batch of submissions for grant funding. Her email address is fenitonpc@gmail.com. Alternatively, letters can be dropped off at my house (Jubilee House on Ottery Road) and I will scan them and forward to Alison.

Getting grant funding for phase 4 is absolutely crucial to enable completion of the scheme. East Devon District Council’s Cabinet agreement to move forward with phase 3 demonstrates the Council’s determination to help the people of Feniton … it’s now up to us to lobby as hard as we can for the funding for phase 4.

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