Exeter Airport freeport could create 27,000 new jobs

This story first surfaced in March as an idea in response to the collapse of Flybe. Looks to Owl to be a bit of a hastily drawn up pipe dream

Keith Rossiter www.devonlive.com 
A freeport centred on Exeter Airport would boost the region’s economy after the Brexit transition period at the end of this year and could create 27,000 new jobs, Ministers have been told.

The government is being urged to give the green light to the region as one of ten new freeports from next year.

Freeports are hubs for business and enterprise. They could be free of checks and paperwork, and include customs and tax benefits.

These zones reduce costs and bureaucracy, encouraging manufacturing businesses to set up or re-shore.

The most successful freeports globally attract businesses and create jobs for local people through liberalised planning laws.

Ministers invited bids last year, ahead of the UK leaving the European Union.

Now a partnership of ten businesses and local authorities has submitted a bid that brings together the marine strengths and port assets of Plymouth, the knowledge economy and airside capabilities of Exeter and East Devon, and the aerospace and engineering excellence of Somerset.

Together, this embryonic partnership will bring together more than a million square feet of port, airport, high value manufacturing and innovation and knowledge-intensive space, combining assets and strengths from a diverse range of partners, from the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, Associated British Ports and regional and city airports, to Yeovil helicopter manufacturer Leonardo and Devonport Dockyard operator Babcock Marine.

The government wants to establish ten freeports to boost the economy after Brexit. It is understood that seven front-runners have been identified already, leaving 14 bidders to compete for three places.

The concept would be particularly significant for Exeter which, along with Plymouth, has been identified as the city most reliant on trade with the EU.

Tim Jones, chairman of the South West Business Council, said: “This would enable greater Exeter to reduce its current high dependence on EU exports and imports.

“This proposal is an exciting and creative response in the midst of the current economic crisis. If awarded, this could result in significant job creation and wealth opportunities for a wide range of businesses.”

The freeport proposal would look to create more than 27,000 high value digital, manufacturing and professional jobs in the local area over the next 20 years, adding around £500 million of additional value to the local economy.

The bid is put together by ten local partners from the public and private sectors. They include representatives from Plymouth, Exeter and East Devon and South Somerset.

Exeter is one of the UK’s fastest growing cities, and its regional airport served a million passengers a year before the lockdown.

The partnership represents an economy worth around £8 billion a year and a wider travel area of around 2.5 million residents.

The area has significant strengths in digital innovation, green technologies and future mobility, and believes it has an offer that can compete with the best in the world and accelerate and drive forward the economy of the South West.

Partners in Exeter and East Devon are working closely through the Heart of the South West local enterprise partnership to develop a Gateway to the digital freeport concept.

Digital activity in the South West has more than doubled over the past ten years, growing 107%. The Exeter and East Devon economy has provided around 45% of all growth in the past decade.

The Exeter and East Devon Growth Area Partnership represents key public and private partners in the Exeter growth area of Devon, bringing together the Heart of the South West local enterprise partnership (LEP), Devon County Council, East Devon District Council, Exeter City Council and Exeter Airport.

Between them they represent an economy worth around £8 billion a year.

The partnership is now awaiting final proposals and a formal bidding process from the Government, which is expected to come later in the year.

Chief nurse was dropped from briefings after refusing to back Cummings

England’s chief nurse has confirmed she was dropped from the Downing Street daily coronavirus briefing after refusing to back Dominic Cummings.

Asked by the [Public Accounts] committee chair, Meg Hillier, for her views on Cummings’ behaviour and whether it was a breach of the rules, May said: “In my opinion the rules were clear. They were there for everyone’s safety and they applied to us all.”

Ruth May said that in a trial run for the 1 June briefing, she was asked about Boris Johnson’s chief adviser’s decision to drive his family from London to Durham during lockdown while his wife had suspected Covid-19.

After she failed to back Cummings, she said, she was told she was no longer needed for the televised press conference taking place later that day, and she was never given an explanation why.

Ministers and No 10 have denied reports that May was stood down over Cummings. Aides to the prime minister briefed journalists at the time that she may not have made it to the briefing because she could have been stuck in traffic.

Appearing before MPs on the House of Commons public accounts committee on Monday, May said she had attended preparations for the briefing and was told she was no longer needed, without explanation. “It is indeed true I was dropped from the briefing, but that happened to many of my colleagues as well,” she said.

Asked if she was questioned in a trial run before the briefing about her views on Cummings’ behaviour during lockdown, May said: “We talk about lots of these preparations questions and of course I was asked about lockdown and rules to lockdown.”

Asked by the committee chair, Meg Hillier, for her views on Cummings’ behaviour and whether it was a breach of the rules, May said: “In my opinion the rules were clear. They were there for everyone’s safety and they applied to us all.”

She added: “I don’t know why I was dropped from the briefing, you would have to ask other people.”

In May’s absence on 1 June, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, presented the daily slides on Covid-19 alongside Prof John Newton from Public Health England.

Appearing before the Commons on Monday, Hancock was asked by his Labour shadow, Jonathan Ashworth: “Did he really acquiesce in the silencing of the chief nursing officer at the height of this pandemic?” Hancock did not respond to the question.

On 12 June, Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, told the daily briefing that May had not been blocked from attending. He said: “I don’t think it is true,” before adding that he was “sure she’ll be back here again”.

Scientific and medical experts who appeared at other briefings alongside a politician were initially reluctant to get involved in the row surrounding Cummings, who while in Durham also made a 60-mile round trip to a beauty spot, which he said was to test his eyesight before a longer journey back to London.

On 28 May, Johnson tried to prevent the chief medical officer for England, Prof Chris Whitty, and the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, from answering questions on the subject, before Whitty said that neither he nor Vallance wished to comment on politics.

However, on 30 May, England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, caused embarrassment for the government by saying, in response to a question about the alleged lockdown breach: “In my opinion the rules are clear and they have always been clear. In my opinion they are for the benefit of all. In my opinion they apply to all.”

Responding to May’s comments, Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat leadership candidate, said the incident suggested ministers were “happy to silence the science when it suits them”.

Downing Street has not responded to a request for comment.

Press Release From Save Clyst St Mary on GESP


The 1970 lyrics in the original “Big Yellow Taxi “song chorus written by Joni Mitchell chant “. . .  you don’t know what you’ve got til its gone – they paved paradise to put up a parking lot” and these words seem still to reverberate and be relevant some 50 years later in connection with some 2020 inappropriate development proposals. 

Devon decision makers are questioning  the growth proposals put forward in the recently published Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP) Draft and Site Options and Sustainability documents, that are due to go out to public consultation for comments from 21 September until the 16 November 2020.

Local media headlines are declaring ‘Greater Exeter plans slammed as ‘a dreadful assault on Devon’, so it would appear that many people in the surrounding local authorities of Exeter are not welcoming these future, vast growth proposals. A recent excerpt from a news article quoted a Teignbridge District Councillor stating:-

“The GESP is a plan that was dreamt up in a pre-covid world. It was ill thought out and does not represent the very best interests of the residents. The purpose of it is to shoulder the weight of Exeter’s ambitious growth targets – more ambitious than China’s . . .”! 

Such vast proposals for increased housing, employment and other developmental targets are planning to be foisted on large swathes of agricultural, green fields in neighbouring rural districts in a quest to achieve a renowned “Green Exeter” that could result in the City being esteemed for its future environmental qualities, pedestrianisation and cycling!

The Government’s Local Plan Experts Group highlighted the importance of joint working, particularly in city regions like Exeter, where administrative boundaries mean that urban housing needs may not be met – but there must be caution to ensure that rural areas surrounding city regions do not become over-developed as a result of attempting to meet this urban need. The GESP could result in sizeable areas of our countryside morphing into large, dormitory suburbs of Exeter with the loss of many highly-valued, rural communities that will be fiercely defended in favour of a more locally-based, sustainable, tailored development. 

Although the GESP is only in its infancy, there are already disagreements between GESP partners and such incompatibility is fuelling fears of loss of control and compromise for the local councils surrounding Exeter.   

Although Government housing targets are required to be met by individual councils whether or not a joint venture (GESP) can be agreed – the fact is that the Government’s overall proposed housing numbers appear flawed. Last year The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) delivered a crucial, comprehensive report that the Government’s projected housing figures were far in excess of the actual housing requirements.

Furthermore, many experts maintain that the existing local employment land planning model is outdated and outmoded, with many employment sites around Exeter (e.g. Skypark) continuing to remain vacant. Therefore, any  benefits from many of the GESP proposals seem only likely to be reaped by a few local landowners, who will see their agricultural fields magically transformed  into ‘huge pots of gold’ from planned lucrative housing numbers in the tens of thousands or substantially increased employment sites or both!

It is acknowledged that co-ordination between the GESP authorities would appear to be the key to moving forwards to accommodate future growth for the combined areas of Exeter, East Devon, Mid Devon and Teignbridge to deliver the necessary improvements to large-scale infrastructure and services, especially to the highway network. Furthermore, a co-ordinated approach is preferable when looking to secure large-scale government funding and investment on extensive wide-ranging strategic matters and theoretically joint decision-making should result in a high quality plan – but there appears to be some crucial issues that still require a great deal of further consideration. 

Any spatial development strategy must ensure protection of our key environmental assets and recognise the huge impact of large increased development densities in rural areas. Such extensive proposed development around the villages of Clyst St Mary, Sowton, Clyst St George, Farringdon, Woodbury, Clyst Honiton and Aylesbeare cannot be judged as an appropriate balance between the need to support the economic aspirations for the Greater Exeter area whilst maintaining and enhancing the natural environment and improving health and social wellbeing.

Although some neighbouring East Devon landowners of Higher Greendale, Hill Barton, and Oil Mill Lane, Clyst St Mary may have jointly offered up huge areas of agricultural land for development in what may appear accessible and well connected locations close to the Exeter City boundary – this should not mean that such intensive development should be concentrated in only one East Devon area, resulting in the loss of many individual village communities and valued green open spaces! 

The current detrimental traffic issues have been recognised in the GESP proposals by planning the relocation of the existing Motorway Service Area at Junction 30 to be re-positioned to Poltimore East. This would alleviate the immense pressure on the highway network around Junctions 29, 30 and 31 of the M5 and all the surrounding arterial routes. However, providing this new infrastructure will require major funding that can only be achieved by major growth. 

GESP proposals also intend re-positioning the crucial, considerable problem of Exeter’s traffic, by re-locating parking to the outskirts of the City boundaries on large ‘park and ride’ sites in a “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot” scenario, subjecting many villages to a future loss of valued, rural environments and a worsening of daily traffic pollution, congestion, tail-backs and rat-running through residential areas to avoid the gridlock! Such proposals will certainly improve the traffic, pollution and environmental qualities for the City of Exeter but at the expense of detrimentally affecting adjoining smaller rural communities by offering a ‘give with one hand and take away with the other hand’ solution to these traffic problems! 

Sustainable development should deliver a balance of economic, social and environmental roles within planning and all three should be equally weighted. Many believe that economic growth has been the main driver of the GESP to date, leaving the social and environmental roles forced into the background for a build build build policy!

The previous Issues Consultation in 2017 highlighted the importance of significant community involvement in preparing the GESP taking into consideration its role alongside local and neighbourhood plans, the importance of environmental issues, health and wellbeing alongside housing and employment needs, transport and infrastructure provision and it is critical that an equilibrium is achievable for all communities.

If lockdown through Covid-19 has taught us anything – it should be the importance of our natural, rural, green countryside and open spaces to enhance our physical and mental wellbeing and surely proportional growth in different areas is preferential to massive over-development of specific regions just because their boundaries are close to Exeter and the M5 corridor? 

District council defends charges for Spoken and Grapevine over use of The Strand for outdoor seating

A decision to charge two Exmouth pubs a combined £1,000 for using The Strand for outdoor seating without permission has been defended by the district council.

The Grapevine and Spoken were both charged £500 for putting tables and chairs in The Strand on the weekend between Friday, July 10 and Sunday, July 12.

East Devon District Council (EDDC), which owns the land, said neither business had completed a temporary event notice (TEN) application in time.

Both George Nightingale of Spoken and Oliver Bainbridge of The Grapevine took to social media to say they were told they had permission until it was rejected at the ‘11th hour’ due to concerns raised by police.

Both landlords called for people to write to the chairman of EDDC Mark Williams to lobby for the charge to be rescinded and for them to be allowed to use The Strand.

EDDC said they were hoping to work with both businesses to grant permission and that the £500 covers the charge for using The Strand and legal fees.

In a video posted on social media, Mr Nightingale said: “The hoops and hurdles put in our way to do things for the town are absurd.

“The Strand should be being used by as many businesses as possible, including The Grapevine, and I encourage its use even if its detrimental to Spoken in the short term because it’s for the betterment of the town and would make us all worker harder.”

An EDDC spokesman said: “A fully completed application did not reach the council until Friday, July 10, and due to concerns raised by the police there was insufficient time to approve their application.

“The concerns raised were not intended to block use altogether, and we had every intention of working through the concerns to support the two businesses.

“It was the action of the two businesses’ in using the space without permission which has caused an issue.

“Whilst we want to support business in this difficult time, uses must still be authorised.

“This all could have been avoided if the two businesses had worked with us in good time and through the proper processes to allow use of the Strand space.”