Meeting with Minister

Last updated: 2nd July 2017



Steering Group Representatives with Ben Bradshaw MP outside the DCLG

Steering Group is grateful to the support received from our local MP, Ben Bradshaw, in securing a meeting for Forum representatives with the Minister, just before Christmas, in the wake of the aborted legal challenge and the failure of our Neighbourhood Plan (NP) to protect the community from planning consent for 320 bed purpose built student accommodation on Exeter City Football Club / Yeo and Davey combined site, despite acknowledgement by the Local Planning Authority (LPA) of the development's non-compliance with St James Neighbourhood Plan, and of a worsening existing community imbalance as a consequence.

A joint letter of support for St James Neighbourhood Plan, signed by each of our city councillors, and expressing concern that the LPA was not always giving the Plan appropriate weight when determining planning applications, was handed to the Minister. The unusual display of consensus between councillors representing the three main political parties was not lost on the Minister!

The Minister confirmed his own, and the government's, continuing commitment to neighbourhood planning and acknowledged that tightening measures were required to ensure local planning authorities afforded Plans the consideration intended by Localism Act. He explained that there were as yet relatively few urban neighbourhood plans, a fact he wished to address. He was unwilling to analyse the specific case of the Football Club development application, but enumerated various options that we might like to consider to help deliver the vision of a balanced community, made possible either by changes within the Neighbourhood Planning Bill currently passing through Parliament, or by announcements he had recently made in the House. These included periodically amending neighbourhood plans to ensure they remained up to date. This was being made easier to do, though a referendum would still be required before the amended version could be adopted. He was keen that we considered using Neighbourhood Development Orders and / or Community Right to Build Orders, and drew our attention to funding that was now being made available to community land trusts (which includes Exeter St James Community Trust) for building new homes, with a generous proportion allocated to the South West.

Of particular interest to St James was his response when asked whether LPAs have power to stop over-concentration of purpose built student accommodation in any one area such as St James, by insisting prospective developers look to build elsewhere in the Authority's area to ensure more even dispersal. Gavin Barwell stated that he would need to check with his advisers, but he did believe that this was already the case, and he promised to give us a definitive answer in due course.

The Minister showed enthusiasm when invited to make a visit to Exeter, and said that following the publishing of the long-awaited, but now imminent, Housing White Paper, he intends to tour the country and would be pleased to confirm Exeter as a destination. This will provide an opportunity for more people, including our local councillors, to meet with him and to show him the situation on the ground, so we look forward to finalising a date for his visit!


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