31. October 2022 · Comments Off on Exeter Plan Consultation · Categories: Planning

Exeter City Council has published its draft plan aimed at meeting its housing targets. The Society (Topsham Community Association Planning Panel) has these observations:


Please note that any comment on the plan must be submitted to the Council by 5 December 2022.

An exhibition for the new Exeter Plan took place at Matthews Hall on 20th October.

Those who follow Planning matters in the City, will recall that the 2012 Exeter Core Strategy was to provide the basis for Planning to supersede the 1995 Local Plan. At the 2013 Public Inquiry, the Strategy was adopted with a requirement to provide at least 12000 new homes in the plan period up to 2026, but with a demand from the Inspector that the City must up its game if it was to secure its position as a sub regional centre.

The pro growth directive emanated from Central Government. This was partly in response to escalating housing demand first anticipated in the mid 1990’s, emanating in part from a rising population, but more from changes in social behaviour leading to the near halving of the number of persons per household compared with historical post war levels. There was also affluent elderly house blocking – remaining in family houses long after their actual need for such accommodation passes. The drive also reflected a need to mitigate the lack of normal economic growth post the 2008 banking crisis and the use of housing to stimulate an otherwise stagnant economy.

Despite a headline policy of “Localism”, the 2010 Cameron Coalition government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) included the pro-growth Trojan Horse requiring LPA’s to maintain a 5 year housing supply, which if failed, would obligate them to grant approval for any proposal that was “sustainable”.

ECC were unable to meet this requirement (currently achieving approx 3 ½ years) and the ensuing flurry of challenges by developers, has led to a loss of control of land allocation and sprawling house building over green fields surrounding the city, including (but not only) the infamous “Topsham Gap”.

The new Exeter Plan follows the aborted attempts to allocate sites in the 2015 Development Management/Site Allocation DPD, which was never advanced beyond initial consultation, and the collaboration with adjoining local authorities on the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP) 2020, dropped when other authorities withdrew. This has left City forward planning largely rudderless for nearly a decade.

The Plan looks to set a framework for the development of the city up until 2040 and is in its infancy, only looking at broad principles at this stage. The exhibition was a brief snapshot of this. It focusses on Memorable Places, Outstanding Quality, Welcoming Neighbourhoods, Spaces for People & Wildlife, Active Streets, and Liveable Buildings. Topsham residents may feel it has something of an unjustified self congratulatory tone.

The Plan considers the main aspects of the City’s development, but from a Topsham self-perspective, housing is the principal area of interest. The plan looks to shift policy to sustainable development, moving away from low density 2/3 storey dwellings on green fields, concentrating housing on 8 large and 20 smaller sites close to city facilities, often at high densities, possibly higher rise, with 85% on previously used brownfield land. This infers a return to the “Urban Renaissance” policies of the Blair-Labour government.

Whilst residents of the east of the town will be pleased there is currently no proposals to schedule Mays Field, regrettably for west Topsham, part of the 15% that isn’t brown field, is scheduled for the remains of the “Gap” – 4 sites around Newcourt Rd (sites 91-94). These have been earmarked for up to 125 dwellings, although given previous Gap approvals relative to initial assessments, is liable to be for greater numbers.

The plan looks to allocate 14300 dwellings over the 2020-40 period, based on 650 dwellings/year average. This appears to exceed the 2012-26 Core Strategy provision. However, ECC officers suggest that because the plan period overlaps the previous Strategy, 5300 have already been allocated, and 2000 have been approved post 2020 and 700 will be unallocated windfall sites of normally small sized plots. It is claimed this would require 6200 dwellings in excess of current approvals to satisfy the policy requirement and achieve a 5 year housing supply.

In conversation, officers appear to accept that ECC were caught out by the NPPF policy shift and Topsham was one of the casualties, with not just Gap lands being developed, but due to the appeals basis under which many sites were approved, that schemes were not necessarily appropriate in detailed design to the context of our small town.

Whilst the battle of the Topsham Gap was largely lost with the EX3 appeal decision and the Gap has been serially eroded since, the threat to the character of Newcourt Rd is still important. It is tempting to believe that opposing broad provisions of the Plan could still be productive. I would not wish to suggest that this should not be attempted. However, in practical terms, residents should be mindful that this plan will not go through the multiple stages of Consultation, Examination, Public Inquiry before formal Adoption, until probably at least 2025. There is the clear risk that given previous pro development pattern of appeals or capitulation by ECC in the face of the inevitable, approvals for development of the remaining Topsham sites will be obtained well before the policy is in place. It is therefore quite likely that as far as Topsham is concerned, the Plan may prove largely academic, although there may be aspects of detail that could mitigate impact to existing residents.

The impact of the ECC situation also needs to be read in the context of parallel plans by East Devon DC for a new settlement around Woodbury-Clyst St George-Clyst St Mary, which combined with development approved and pending along Clyst Rd, may lead to a radically different setting for Topsham evolving over the coming years.

The Plan is available to view at http://exeterplan.commonplace.is and at Topsham Library, the Civic Centre and Exeter main Library. Interested parties can make observations to the Plan in respect of the impact on Topsham or the overall City, via the website or in writing to ECC Planning, Civic Centre, Paris St, Exeter, EX1 1JN.

David Burley
Chair of the TCA-Topsham Society Planning Panel

14. March 2021 · Comments Off on Planning News · Categories: News, Planning

Planning applications on the previously protected Topsham Gap Lands, continue to be a focus for the Planning Panel’s work. Recent cases include the Reserved Matters/replacement Detailed applications for 7 houses (20/0121/RES) and 27 houses (increased from the 23 approved at outline stages) (20/0437/FUL) off Newcourt Road, the approval of 64 houses at Broom Park off Exeter Rd (20/0321/FUL) 155 Houses off Clyst Rd (20/0849/RES) and a 5 storey office slab block off Wessex Close (20/0938/FUL).

In each case the Society has objected to proposals, but despite vociferous objection, including representing the town at Planning Committee meetings (which due to Covid restrictions are now online, buffering elected councillors from the impact of physical representation from towns people) all have been approved, despite all being in contravention of Exeter City Councils adopted Policy. Dispiritingly, at one recent meetings the Chairman of the Council, who had previously been a more understanding member of the pro-growth Labour-led council, stated in response to ward members observation that Topsham had taken its fair share of volume development, that “Topsham is a port and that boat has sailed”. From this and the recent draft GESP (Greater Exeter Strategic Plan) it is clear that the council no longer has the will to offer even token resistance to the loss of the Gap.

Whilst the Society understand the difficulty the Council has placed itself in by failing to foresee the impact of Housing Supply Targets when these were introduced in 2012, its inaction in the intervening 9 years to “plug the hole” is lamentable and leaves all City communities exposed to the Wild West of unplanned development. This pro growth at any cost stance was highlighted by the Wessex Close office approval, where despite there not being the policy driver as there is for housing  the Council placed reliance on the conclusions of the applicant-commissioned report by the Devon Design Review Panel which was not made available to the public for comment, over the strong opposition of the councils own Urban Designer who mirrored many of the Society’s objections. The Society believe this is a clear breach of due process, setting a dangerous precedent, and is pursuing the matter currently. Public presentations at Planning Meetings are limited to 3 minutes. Previously the Society has been able to boost its impact by our ward member asking questions, so we could expand our arguments, and making his own statement about applications. It was particularly concerning recently that our new local ward member on the Planning Committee failed to either ask questions or speak in defence of the town. We are attempting to ensure this situation does not reoccur.

20. August 2019 · Comments Off on Planning Application – May’s Field · Categories: Planning

The Society has submitted this objection to the application for change of use and to build a stable block in May’s Field.

15. February 2019 · Comments Off on Topsham Parking Review · Categories: Planning

At its meeting on 14 January 2019, Devon County Council’s Exeter Highways and Traffic Orders Committee approved the parking scheme proposals. The DCC website is not the easiest to explore: the relevant committee minutes are here. Details of the traffic order are in Report HIW/19/2 which is a pdf file. We have no information on when the scheme will be implemented.

13. February 2018 · Comments Off on Clyst Road Development · Categories: Planning

As expected, the developer appealed against refusal. A public inquiry was held over the period 4-6 December. The inspector could not be faulted for his efforts to allow all interested parties to put forward their views. He even allowed the Topsham Society to put questions to the appellants witnesses. The barrister appointed by the Council put forward the Council’s case better than could have been expected, but she was sorely let down by her client on the third day, when the Inspector was moved to describe Exeter City Council as “shambolic”.

Regrettably, Heritage Homes appealed successfully against Exeter City Council’s refusals to permit development of an office block or a block of flats on the corner of Exeter Road and Retreat Drive. We do not know which, if either, will be built.

As expected, Heritage Homes have submitted appeals against the refusals of planning permission for the Exeter Road site between their current housing development and the motorway. Anybody who submitted comment on either of the applications should have received notice of the appeals. Note that these appeals are linked and will be considered together by the Inspector.

The details:

LOCATION: Land bounded by Exeter Road and The Retreat Drive (Heritage Homes Office), Exeter Road, Topsham, Exeter, EX3
PROPOSAL: Erection of a B1 Office Building, access and associated infrastructure works

If you want to make any comments (or add to or withdraw those already made), you can do so by emailing the Inspector using West1@pins.gsi.gov.uk. Alternatively, you can go to the Planning Inspectorate’s Appeals Casework Portal, although you will need to set up an account before you can proceed. If you know of somebody without access to the Internet who might wish to comment, you could let them know that they can write, sending three copies, to  The Planning Inspectorate, Room 3P, Temple Quay House, 2 The Square, Bristol, BS1 6PN.

Please note all representations must be received by 20 June 2017.

The appeal documents are available for inspection at the Civic Centre, Paris Street, Exeter, EX1 1NN between 9.00am and 5.00pm Mondays to Fridays or via the Council’s website at www.exeter.gov.uk/planning. These links take you to the relevant pages. 16/0963/03  16/1505/03

Devon County Council has finally got around to introducing a residents’ parking scheme in Topsham. There will be an exhibition in the Rugby Club on 23 and 24 May 2018

We have been informed by Exeter City Council that Heritage Homes has submitted appeals against the refusal of planning permission for the office block and the subsequent refusal for a block of flats on the same site. Details are not yet available.

In my post of 3 November, which followed the rejection of the Heritage Homes plans for an office block, I wondered how soon they’d be back. The answer is one month. They are now applying to build a block of flats in the same place and of about the same size as the proposed office block. You can find the full details here.