Cranbrook – just another suburb of Exeter and now unlikely to get its long-promised town centre?

Exeter City Council is working in partnership with surrounding District Council Partners, isn’t it? Or is it?

The Councils of East Devon, Teignbridge, Mid Devon and Exeter have been working for some time now towards a combined Strategic Plan – “Greater Exeter” – though we are not allowed to know EXACTLY what that means until after the next local elections in May 2019. Public consultation, which had been timetabled for this year was postponed until then but no reason given. It seems unlikely to offer good news.

But perhaps recent developments in the Exeter/Cranbrook area might shed just a little light on forward plans.

Firstly, it does makes sense to share ideas and come up with a plan to benefit the whole area rather than cram everything into the bulging-growth City of Exeter. Indeed, Plymouth is doing the same thing with its surrounding councils.

In theory, it allows the spread the housing evenly throughout the wider area, enables the building of strategic new roads and other infrastructure and improves bus and rail services to help manage the ongoing problems of congestion in the City. Basically, spread the costs, the developments, and share in the joint benefits this will bring. We see an example of this here:

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2018/08/06/western-east-devon-profits-from-extra-buses-eastern-east-devon-gets-nothing-time-to-join-west-dorset/

East Devon has been working hard with Exeter for some years now with developments in their contiguous areas, creating the new town of Cranbrook, the Exeter Science Park and Sky Park (all on East Devon land) to provide workspace and office accommodation close to the City of Exeter.

However, EDDC has found it impossible to persuade retailers (and their partner developers) to take space in their planned “Cranbrook Town Centre”, which currently consists of only half a dozen small shops and a pub. A second “town centre” was mooted for the next phase of housing development but has never been firmed up.

Cranbrook and other massive housing developments close to the Exeter city boundary (Monkerton, Pinhoe) are now simply dormitory estates to Exeter, relying on the retail offer provided by the City and Sowton to supply the ever-increasing housing in these locations.

The reluctance of retailers and developers to come forward to provide the shops in the heart to the new town of Cranbrook is not difficult to understand. Most retailers are going through a massive change with most companies reporting closures, downturn in profits and many high street names pulling away from the traditional high street.

However, in the greater Exeter area, there is yet another reason for the reluctance of investment into the Cranbrook retail offer. Despite the abandonment of the Bus and Coach Station site last year for retail redevelopment, Exeter’s planners are recommending approval for a massive new “Out of Town Retail Park” close to the MET office and only a short journey from Cranbrook:

https://www.devonlive.com/whats-on/shopping/massive-exeter-retail-park-includes-1866178

The Exeter planners state the application is contrary to their own council policy as the proposed development will not be a ‘local centre’. But the scheme does provide, as part of a wider package, a “local function” – and so it is extremely unlikely that a more ‘traditional’ local centre will be delivered within the newly built housing estates at Monkerton and Hill Barton area of the City. The City planners conclude this is the only realistic opportunity to secure local retail facilities in the area – including Cranbrook.

The applicants claim the scheme will offer a mix of use classes including food retail, non-food retail, restaurants and cafes with ancillary drive thru’ offerings too.

If this application is approved by Exeter City Council next week (13th August 2018) and goes ahead this will be another massive hurdle that East Devon will need to overcome to persuade retailers to locate in their own town centre. As a result, if Exeter planners have their way the likelihood of any retail local centre at Cranbrook coming forward look to be close to zero.

Exeter councillors are being told the City will benefit from a massive economic injection associated with the scheme – with a £15 million construction investment, 260 average construction jobs during the build, 520 FTE permanent jobs, £12 million estimated total annual wage bill across the development, £9 million estimated total annual expenditure in the UK economy by employees of the development, 160 FTE jobs supported in the wider economy by the development, £1.1 million annual business rate contribution and finally up to £2.2 million in Community Infrastructure Levy.

And if this bid fails, there are three more massive retail offerings in the pipeline within half a mile of the same area and all within the Exeter City Council boundary:

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/exeter-smyths-next-mcdonalds-costa-1769559

So where does that leave “partnership”? And Cranbrook?

Exeter Council coffers will benefit substantially, and East Devon District Council get a large “Out of Town Retail Park” on the edge of their almost shop-less Cranbrook new town.

What a great partner Exeter City Council is proving to be by cherry-picking the juicy benefits and income streams provided by their partners’ hard work in providing the dwellings that will provide the customers to flood into Exeter’s new retail park.

Cranbrook is basically becoming an eastern version of Alphington (Marsh Barton, Matford) – just another suburb of congested, polluted, not-that-great Exeter.