City Council agree to dispose of land, if planning permission granted for nearby development.
The land would be needed as part of Exeter Homes Trust’s £9m redevelopment plans of the Fairpark Almshouses, at the bottom of Magdalen Road and overlooking Bull Meadow Park.
But residents have said they cherish the park, which is blessed with a magnificent array of ancient trees, a separate play area for very young children and a wide-open space for a variety of park users and the children to play sport.
Exeter City Council’s executive committee resolved to grant consent to the city surveyor to dispose of the parcel of land required to create an extension of the highway, but only if planning consent for this scheme is granted and requires the parcel of land. As of yet, no planning application has been submitted.
Cllr Ollie Pearson, who made the proposal, said that in principle, he was happy with the request as on balance the benefits of the development outweigh the area of land in question. But he said: “I am happy to sell a little bit of the land if it makes the development happen in the right way, but the issues around traffic and access should be considered in planning terms. We should let planning take this one and see if there is an acceptable scheme that way.
“This decision needs to be taken on planning grounds and it is unfortunate there is no planning application in at this stage as it would have made things a lot clearer.”
Exeter City Council’s Place Scrutiny Committee last month voted overwhelmingly not to support any recommendation that the council should dispose of the land, and chairman of the committee, Cllr Luke Sills said they were unanimously against the sale.
He said: “It is a valuable piece of park and would be very sad if the council chose to take away more public open space from its residents.”
Ward councillors Matthew and Natalie Vizard both spoke against the proposal to sell the land. Cllr Natalie Vizard said: “The majority of residents support the development of the Almhouses, but we do oppose the sale of council land for the sole purpose of creating a turning circle as it will have a fundamentally negative impact on the character of the area. There is a clear indication the community is passionate in its opposition to the sale of the land.”
Cllr Matthew Vizard added: “The only reason for the purchase of land is for vehicular access to the development, but park space for a car space is surely not the right priority? Please listen to voices and save the park for residents.”
Michael Carson, the City Surveyor for the council, outlined that there had been a request by Exeter Homes Trust Ltd to purchase an area of Bull Meadow Park at the end of Temple Road to enable the redevelopment of the existing scheme of 12 almshouses dating from 1928 to provide 31 almshouses.
He added any access off Fairpark Road would not provide the same advantages and may not be a fundamentally viable proposal.
Cllr Andrew Leadbetter, leader of the opposition Conservative Group, proposed that the council do not sell the land, but found no seconder for the proposal. He also questioned whether they could be given the land during the construction phase for access, but then they give the land back afterwards.
But the rest of the executive agreed to sell the parcel of land subject to the planning committee granting permission for a scheme that requires the land. The type and number of houses for the site would be subject to a future planning application.
The council would receive £25,000 for selling the land, plus £5,000 towards mitigation works, and only marginal revenue savings would be made on park maintenance.
When the plans was announced last year, local residents called for alternative options to be considered and said they were dismayed as children would be losing their play space and they were deeply concerned as a road turning point will invite more traffic to the area and encourage drivers to speed up, thereby compromising the safety of their children.
Alan Williamson, chairman of Exeter Homes Trust, had said: “We are working hard across the city to help local communities try and alleviate homelessness in Exeter. This project would provide 31 affordable charitable homes that are desperately needed for people unable to remain in their own home due to failing health or other difficult circumstances.
“The trust does appreciate how valuable the park is for residents. However, the use of a small part of the park has been determined as the best option of competing priorities. Clearly, losing one small part of the park needs to be balanced against the very real and urgent need for affordable housing in Exeter at a time when many sites are being redeveloped for student accommodation, with far fewer developments in the city for local people, particularly those with insufficient means to buy or rent.”