Leader column: how we will create balanced and sustainable communities
Published: 18 September 2019
I have been delighted with the support we have received across the city for our Liveable Exeter Garden City vision, and it is great to see this project progressing with plans to launch a new delivery board and recruit a Project Director funded by Central Government, who recognise the work of the Council.
Housing remains one of our top priorities. Exeter’s success over the last decade has put pressure on housing – we are a place where people want to live and work, and the city is growing fast.
That’s why our Liveable Exeter plans are so important. It will see the creation of around 12,000 homes over the next 20 years, without adding to congestion in the city. This in itself is a major challenge but working together we can achieve this.
The vision highlights the need to create new communities based on active travel, including walking and cycling, rather than the private car. It calls for the retention and growth of green space and valley parks to allow people to move around the city in a natural and green setting.
Most importantly, it’s about creating communities rather than just houses. We want to support our communities and make sure people have access to amenities and the ability to move freely around the city.
Good progress has been made in another housing initiative I revealed in my last column - co-living. We want new purpose-built student accommodation to have space for anyone to rent. This is the way we will achieve balanced and sustainable communities.
Some universities around the country are struggling with falling student numbers, which could lead to difficulties in filling purpose-build accommodation with students.
Exeter University is not in that position - as one of the country’s top universities demand for places remains high. Even so, co-living will help future-proof expansion in this sector, and I have been very encouraged with discussions I have had with developers and the university about our future planning policy in this area.
Liveable Exeter is linked to two other key council priorities – helping the city to become carbon-neutral by 2030, and making us the most activity city in the UK.
The expansion of the Co Bikes scheme last week is an excellent example of the type of initiative we need if Exeter is to achieve its ambition of becoming carbon-neutral. I have used an electric bike for some time, and find it a great way of getting around the city. The expansion will see more 100 new electric bikes and more locations around the city where the bikes can be hired from, and I very much welcome it.
An enormous amount of work is taking place with our Exeter and Cranbrook Sport England Local Delivery Pilot Programme. We are targeting schools, workplaces and community organisations, working in collaboration with our partners, and have already achieved a great deal of success.
I am particularly proud of the work being done by Wellbeing Exeter, which has led to 2,000 new social prescribing referrals, 1,000 with active lifestyle plans, and the creation of 20 new community activity groups.
Finally, some more good news. Last week a national report by the Centre for Cities highlighted Exeter as one of the top locations in the UK for its city centre amenities.
The report looked at what cities offer to consumers, including museums, cultural offerings and leisure facilities as well as shops, cafes and bars and other attractions. It ranked Exeter eighth in the whole of the UK for day-to-day amenities.
We are working hard to bring investment to the city centre. The construction of a new leisure centre and bus station are gathering pace, and plans for the wider site which will be known as CityPoint were backed by members of the Executive last week. A report detailing options for a new entertainment venue is being considered.
To have this work recognised, and the city highlighted as being among the best in the country, is something we can all be very proud of.