‘THEY PAVED PARADISE TO PUT UP A PARKING LOT!’
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?