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Exeter’s Local Plan – a phoenix still rising or the latest chapter for the city’s evolution?

Exeter is soon to consult on a new Local Plan, but is the city still rising from the ashes of the World War Two Blitz?

The city council will launch a community consultation in September 2021 on the ‘issues’ relating to the formation of a Local Plan for the city between 2020 and 2040. So, with Exeter shaping a vision for its future development, it’s interesting to look back in time to when town planner Thomas Sharp was tasked with creating a plan for the city following World War Two.

Through his book, Exeter Phoenix: A Plan for Rebuilding, Sharp presented an outline vision for how Exeter could be rebuilt after its city centre was bombed in 1942. He also warned the evolution of planning meant the city could take ‘many years’ to complete and may never be finished.

Thomas Sharp’s drawing of what Exeter could have looked like, and an aerial photo of Exeter from Queen Street, Exeter.
Thomas Sharp’s drawing of what Exeter could have looked like, and an aerial photo of Exeter from Queen Street. Click the image to enlarge.

Sharp attempted to maintain Exeter’s ‘personality and character’ while setting out how the city could recover, adding: “It is essential to work out plans for the city as a whole, and to avoid adopting isolated plans to deal with isolated problems.”

The plans included an inner-city by-pass as part of an unofficial transport interchange with Central Station and what would have been a bus station at the site of the Rougemont Hotel.

Central Station, Exeter.
Central Station could have looked very different in Sharp’s vision for Exeter.

Sharp also proposed a pedestrianised shopping street opening up views of Exeter Cathedral from the junction near to what is now the oval Next building. This area became the Princesshay shopping centre.

A drawing of Thomas Sharp's vision for a shopping street, and photograph of modern day Princesshay Shopping Centre.
Sharp’s vision for a shopping street which became the old Princesshay, and modern day Princesshay Shopping Centre.

The concept of the by-pass – which would have taken tourism traffic away from the city centre over the eastern platform of Central Station and underneath Queen Street and Iron Bridge – was ultimately shelved in favour of a more cost-effective route we now know as Western Way. He even predicted in his book that the cost might be a barrier to the new by-pass route he proposed.

A photograph of the Western Way bypass in Exeter.
The Western Way bypass which was ultimately preferred to Sharp’s northern bypass.

While Sharp’s plan focused on the infrastructure needed in the city following the war, the next evolution of Exeter’s vision, the Local Plan, is likely to focus on the future sustainability of the city.

Exeter’s Local Plan consultation document states that the city’s development strategy will need to be revisited and the ‘evolving situation’ has led the council to form a housing delivery programme called Liveable Exeter.

This scheme aims to create a series of eight high quality development sites for 11,000 new homes, which has received a £750,000 start-up fund from Homes England.

Richard Marsh, project director, said these communities won’t just be about housing, adding:

They’ll also be about how we go about placemaking and that will involve things like how we deliver appropriate levels of retail, provided within these developments, and how we incorporate employment.

Karime Hassan, chief executive and growth director for Exeter City Council, added:

We need to create great neighbourhoods. It’s not just building houses – which in itself is a major challenge as we have to build 12,000 homes over the next 20 years – but we’re going to do that in a way which is also building into that great community. Liveable Exeter is putting the person centre stage so when you build a house, it needs to be affordable, it needs to be healthy, it needs to be an environment that is attractive to those raising families.

Frazer Osment, of LDA Design, is a landscape architect and urban designer behind Liveable Exeter. He said:

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to renew the structure of the city so that it can accommodate the sort of change and attract the investment it needs for its communities to prosper in the future.

It’s certainly an exciting time for Exeter, and the KOR team will be especially interested to see how the Local Plan progresses, both in terms of the fact we live and work in the city’s catchment, but also that we are involved in a number of sustainable placemaking projects seeking inclusion in Local Plans.

To find out more about our work, or to have a conversation about communicating a vision or developing a consultation and engagement strategy, please contact Annette Richman or call 01392 466733.