Agenda item

Planning Application No. 21/1564/OUT - Former Police Station and Magistrates Court, Heavitree Road, Exeter

To consider the report of the Director City Development.



Councillor D. Moore declared a disclosable pecuniary interest and left the meeting during consideration of this item.


The Assistant Service Lead – Development Management (Major Projects) presented the outline planning application with all matters considered in detail except landscaping, for the demolition of the existing buildings and construction of mixed-use development comprising Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) (Sui Generis) and Co-Living (Sui Generis) with associated infrastructure. (Revised plans received)


The proposal involved the demolition of all existing buildings comprising the former Heavitree Road Police Station and Magistrates Court, clearance of the site and re-development to provide a mixed Co-Living and PBSA scheme in two separate building blocks with associated access, parking and infrastructure. The former would comprise 315 studio apartments and the latter 640 rooms including a mixture of studio rooms and cluster flats.


The Assistant Service Lead - Development Management (Major Projects) reported that, at the Planning Committee held on 10 October 2022, Members had resolved to defer a decision on the application in order to allow the applicant to revise the proposals to address the issues that had been raised by Members and the technical reasons for refusal that had been drafted. This was subject to an extension of time being agreed, taking the revisions to a Design Review Panel and carrying out public consultation on the revisions. Accordingly, revised plans and supporting documents had been submitted on 6 January 2023 following a review by the Design Review Panel on 22 November 2022. Public consultation on the revisions had been carried out between 12 January and 5 February 2023. Statutory and non-statutory consultees had also been re-consulted on the amended plans.


The Assistant Service Lead - Development Management (Major Projects) reported the following summary of the changes made since the previous reports:-


·         the number of rooms in the PBSA building reduced from 677 to 640;

·         the number of rooms in Co-Living building reduced from 358 to 315;

·         the sixth floor of the Co-Living building removed;

·         part of the fifth floor of PBSA building removed to the west;

·         the floor to ceiling heights reduced in both buildings to reduce overall height;

·         both buildings setback further away from Heavitree Road;

·         privacy film applied to Co-Living ground/first floor windows facing Higher Summerlands;

·         the central wing of the PBSA building removed creating one, larger courtyard instead of two;

·         the Co-Living courtyard elevated from lower ground to ground floor improving daylight;

·         the amount of external landscaped space increased from 5,600 square metres to 7,200 square metres;

·         the amount of communal amenity space in Co-Living block increased from 2.5 square metres per room to five square metres per room, which accords with the Greater London Authority’s draft guidance on Large-Scale Purpose-Built Shared Living (January 2022); and

·         five existing trees along Heavitree Road retained: T10 (11m Silver Birch), T14 (7.5m Hawthorn), T16 (15m Silver Birch), T17 (16m Beech) and T20 (14m Silver Birch).


The Assistant Service Lead - Development Management (Major Projects) provided further detail of the revised proposal through floor plans, elevations and illustrative images from different viewpoints from Heavitree Road and St. Lukes Campus which also showed reductions in height and massing.


The Assistant Service Lead - Development Management (Major Projects) in conclusion advised that the revised proposal was a high quality design that had responded appropriately to the issues raised by Members and therefore planning permission was recommended, subject to the completion of a s106 legal agreement to secure obligations and conditions as set out in the Update Sheet.


The Assistant Service Lead - Development Management (Major Projects), in response to Members’ queries, advised that:-


·         a zone for a bus lane had been discussed during the earlier iterations of the scheme but dropped from subsequent schemes. However, there was space for it to be provided and should a scheme be proposed it would need to be considered by this Committee because of the potential impact on landscaping;

·         the courtyard had been moved from the lower ground floor to the ground floor with associated changes in the available light for the rooms;

·         apart from the five trees referred to in the report, all other trees would be removed, although the developer had indicated that additional trees would be provided which would be brought forward as part of reserved matters;

·         it was estimated that the footprint was greater than the buildings currently on the site which were low density in terms of space and of a poor urban design;

·         the Co-Living development would be brought forward on the same principle as the two other Co-Living developments in the city and would include prioritisation for essential local workers including health, education and retail for the affordable units; and

·         the relationship of the Co-Living building to the existing houses in Higher Summerlands was considered acceptable, as it is a front-to-front relationship and the 25 degree rule for right to light was complied with.


Responding to Members’ queries, the Director City Development advised that:-


·         the site was initially within the Eastgate Liveable Exeter site but had been superseded by the City Point development;

·         there was a stipulation that 20% of the Co-Living units would be below market level; and

·         Co-Living accommodation provided homes for people to live in and PBSA units provided temporary accommodation for students.


The Director City Development provided the following concluding points in support of the recommendation which was for approval, subject to a Section 106 Legal Agreement and the conditions as set out in the report and details within the update sheet:-


·         additional time had been granted to address issues with consideration by the Design Review Panel on four occasions and discussions with officers resulting in significant changes to the articulation and sense of scale;

·         Exeter was a prosperous city, but was in need of more housing which would also help support its growing economy. The units were targeted at students and young professionals and were designed by top UK based architects with a strong international track record with good practice followed;

·         a landscaping scheme would be considered at Reserved Matters which would soften the appearance of the building with additional trees provided;

·         it optimises a brownfield site in a strategic and highly sustainable location opposite St. Lukes Campus, five minutes from the city centre and on a major bus route;

·         it would significantly improve the appearance of a major gateway into the city which was presently an eyesore; and

·         the Civic Society had withdrawn its objections.


Councillor Vizard, having given notice under Standing Order No. 44, spoke on the item. He raised the following points:-


·         what is still proposed are two monolithic blocks, monotonous in design, out of all proportion in scale and massing, with little outside amenity for residents, a high impact on the amenity of the area that would cause harm to the character of this part of the city;

·         there have been few adjustments since the earlier scheme and the provision of outside amenity space, especially for the public, remains poor, the setting back from Heavitree Road is minimal and does little to address the issue of scale, visual amenity and harm to the character of the area. This application still proposes nearly 1,000 units which would bring huge additional burden to the area’s public amenities;

·         it does not fit the Liveable Exeter vision which is about a bold and imaginative high quality, sustainable development in a garden city environment, and homes for the broader population. It would however make an ideal Liveable Exeter site;

·         the provision of more affordable homes in Exeter should not be at the expense of suitable scale and design, or to the detriment of an area;

·         this part of Newtown and St Leonards is a residential area and not a city centre site designated in the current Local Plan. While suitable for a sensitive residential development, it is not appropriate for a high-density development;

·         it casts a shadow over neighbours in Higher Summerlands and St. Matthews Close and clashes uncomfortably with the St. Luke’s campus site and surrounding conservation areas;

·         the loss of trees remains a serious concern to residents and to the Council’s Tree Manager who sustains his objection;

·         the Design Review Panel had queried why “After a long design development phase of two years, the alignment of the two blocks remained unclear with the break between the two buildings and its alignment with onward connections unresolved. Also queried were: “the levels of daylight that would be afforded to the courtyards as this would affect the amenity experience”;

·         the application contradicts guidance in the Local Plan Policy H5, and the Core Strategy around appropriate scale, massing, character, skyline and overdevelopment of particular types of accommodation;

·         the Council’s Heritage Officer has maintained his view that this would harm the setting of the locally listed St Lukes Chapel building;

·         it fails to meet the guidance of the National Planning Policy Framework requiring developments to add to the overall quality of the area, be visually attractive as a result of good architecture and effective landscaping, is sympathetic to the local character and history, maintains a strong sense of place, using the arrangement of streets, spaces, building types and materials and optimises the potential of the site to accommodate and sustain an appropriate amount and mix of development;

·         the development is still too dominant and harmful;

·         there have been 118 public objections in total; and

·         this site is too prominent, too crucial to get wrong and lumber the ward with a beast of a development.


Mr Kitchin, speaking against the application, raised the following points:-


·         it is a dysfunctional and unhealthy development and should be finally refused on the basis that it contravenes four keystone elements within Council planning documents on 15 occasions;

·         it also contradicts the principles of the new Exeter Local Plan, the future vision for the city, on 23 occasions;

·         regarding massing, there has only been one metre drop in total height, floor space has marginally increased and the building is now eight stories high in places;

·         it will not function as affordable living as The Gorge next door, a Co-Living development will cost £950 per person, beyond a nurse’s salary and affordable only to the likes of high income foreign students. It will not address Exeter’s housing crisis;

·         liveable space is not provided on site. The student courtyard will never receive an hour of sunlight during term time and the green space on the site is more than halved;

·         there will be a loss of the Heavitree Road facing embankment feature, and hence likely with it, the loss of all trees on site. The important Higher Summerlands green space with the existing mature tree barrier is lost. The new Co-Living development will now be pressed up against these residents and will have no effective green barrier for the first 20 years of growing, then after that no cover for five months of the year;

·         there is now a mental health policy for the site. It is a mockery, telling people to do more exercise or try voluntary work. There is nothing about the loss of wellbeing in the surrounding community. The development will force a whole swathe of society to go against the basic principles of healthy living;

·         the development is city centre creep, sandwiched between two residential conservation areas and destroying the attractive nature of a key historic and civic gateway; and

·         the Council Leader quotes in the new Exeter Local Plan, “We will ensure quality of life and well-being are at the heart of all decisions it’s about living better in Exeter.”


Responding to a Member’s query, he believed that the rental for the adjoining Gorge development was not affordable to many, including nurses.


Mr Howells, speaking in support of the application, raised the following points:-


·         representing Student Roost, the joint applicants with Devon and Cornwall Police and Nixon Property;

·         at the Planning Committee meeting on 10 October 2022 the principle of the development was accepted; and the erection of a mixed Co-Living and PBSA scheme was considered acceptable. The proposal had been revisited in respect of height, massing, design, siting, landscaping, amenity impacts on surrounding properties, internal and external amenity and tree loss with further discussions with officers and consultees and revised proposals had been considered by Design West at a Design Review Panel meeting held on 23 November 2022. There is now a general endorsement from the Design Review Panel;

·         the footprint of the buildings have been set-back even further from Heavitree Road to 14.5 metres, increasing distance to St. Luke’s College to 48 metres;

·         the storey heights have also been reduced by up to one metre. The Co-Living building has been reduced by one storey with the top floor omitted and the PBSA building has been reduced by one storey across 40% of its west frontage, reducing scale and creating a greater step in line with the topography of Heavitree Road;

·         concerns about impact on the amenity of adjacent properties have been addressed. This is also supported by an assessment of daylight and sunlight provision which confirms that the properties on Higher Summerlands will not be adversely effected by the proposals;

·         the amendments made to the setting and scale of the proposals improve daylight in the communal courtyards. Moreover, the communal courtyard in the Co-Living building had been elevated to the ground floor which, combined with the omission of the top-storey, will reduce the sense of enclosure;

·         the communal courtyard in the PBSA building has also been redesigned as a single large courtyard increasing this external amenity area by 77 square metres to 1.2 metres per room;

·         the buildings being set-back along Heavitree Road also increases the on-site open external landscaped area from 5,600 square metres to 7,200 square metres;

·         a significant change is the increase in all room sizes in the Co-Living element of the proposals. These rooms now meet the available standards and are consistent with the other Co-Living schemes granted approval in Exeter;

·         the internal communal amenity space for the Co-Living building has doubled from 2.5 square metres per room to five square metres per room, which meets available standards and exceeds the existing Co-Living schemes in Exeter;

·         as the buildings have been set back, more trees along the Heavitree Road frontage are now being retained. In addition, a generous re-planting strategy of around 84 new trees is indicated. This change will also increase the open landscaped area to the front of the site, in turn enhancing the amenity and biodiversity value of the site; and

·         significant changes have been made to the scheme which directly addresses the concerns. The proposals will bring back into beneficial use a key gateway site, meeting an identified need for student and residential uses at a sustainable location. The changes made to the scheme mean that the proposals offer the highest quality scheme of its kind in the city.


He responded as follows to Members’ queries:-


·         there will be varying degrees of available sunlight to the units as well as the courtyards, although these will also benefit from shading;

·         Co-Living has proved very popular in other cities particularly for graduates and young professionals where there is a real demand for this type of property and they are let very quickly. 20% of Co-Living will be at affordable levels;

·         there will be no summer time occupation of the PBSA units; and

·         although not aimed at students, the Co-Living blocks could accommodate students.


Members expressed the following views:-


·         there are responsibilities to neighbouring residents and, with 118 objections, there is still a significant impact on surrounding buildings. There is a significant loss of trees and the speakers opposing the application have been very compelling;

·         there is poor sunlight provision for many of the units including those along the corridor settings with a likely associated impact on mental health. There is poor amenity space for both blocks and there are too many people in too small a space;

·         it was a poor application at the outset and little has changed and it will remain unaffordable to many on lower wages as well as students themselves. The reduction in height does not go far enough;

·         there is a pressing need for housing amongst a cross section of society in Exeter and, by providing accommodation for both students and young professionals, will free up badly needed houses for others, especially families elsewhere in the city. The application should be supported as additional family homes are needed, and students also need to be housed, so housing, in whatever format, should be welcome;

·         it is a city centre site and will be developed and, whilst the design might not be acceptable to all, the provision of much need housing should be the paramount consideration. There will be many who will be attracted by this type of accommodation being preferable to flats or bedsits in poor conditions. Market conditions will ensure that rents will settle at levels that are affordable should some of the units prove difficult to rent; and

·         do not support the application as the proposal is overbearing, not in keeping with the area and with inappropriate scale, massing and mix of design.


The Chair moved the recommendation for approval which was voted upon and lost and the application was deemed refused.


The Chair left the meeting at this point and, during her absence, the meeting was chaired by the Deputy Chair, Councillor Sutton and each of the six reasons for refusal below were voted upon and carried.


RESOLVED that outline planning permission with all matters considered in detail except landscaping, for the demolition of the existing buildings and construction of mixed-use development comprising Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (Sui Generis) and Co-Living (Sui Generis) with associated infrastructure. (Revised plans received), be REFUSED for the following reasons, each of which were voted upon separately and carried:-


1.    The proposed development would harm the character of the area, including the streetscenes along Heavitree Road and Gladstone Road, and the setting of the locally listed St Luke’s College buildings, by virtue of the heights and massing of the two buildings, which would be of a far greater scale than the majority of buildings in the area, and their siting in close proximity to the streets making them feel even more imposing on their surroundings. The proposed development is therefore contrary to Policy CP17 of the Core Strategy, which requires all proposals for development to complement or enhance Exeter’s character and local identity, saved Policies H5 and DG1 of the Exeter Local Plan First Review 1995-2011, and paragraphs 130 and 197c) of the NPPF (2021).


2.    The proposed development would harm the amenity, privacy and outlook of the adjacent residential properties, particularly in Higher Summerlands, due to the height, scale and massing of the proposed buildings on the site and their siting in close proximity to the properties taking into account their designs. The proposed development is therefore contrary to saved Policies H5(a) and DG4(b) of the Exeter Local Plan First Review 1995-2011, and paragraph 130f) of the NPPF (2021).


3.    The proposed development would have a limited amount of external amenity space for use by the high number of residents of the two buildings and the external amenity space proposed in the form of the internal courtyards would be poor quality with a sense of feeling enclosed and with reduced levels of daylight due to the scale of the surrounding buildings. It is also considered that the proposed development would provide a poor living environment for residents that would have would have a negative impact on their health and well-being. The proposed development is therefore contrary to saved Policy DG4(b) of the Exeter Local Plan First Review 1995-2011 and paragraph 130e) and f) of the NPPF (2021).


4.    Notwithstanding the applicant’s agreement to pay £436,435for the maintenance and upgrade of off-site public open spaces serving the development (to be spent on upgrades to Exeter City Council parks) and £111,735for the maintenance and upgrade of off-site play areas serving the development (to be spent on the installation of outdoor adult fitness equipment) in accordance with the consultation response from the Public and Green Spaces team of Exeter City Council to mitigate the impact of additional demand on off-site Exeter City Council public spaces, the proposed development would have a negative impact on public spaces in the locality of the site, in particular Belmont Park approximately 400 metres north of the site, due to the additional use and demand of these spaces by residents of the proposed development and limited amount of on-site external amenity space provision. The proposed development is therefore contrary to Policy CP10 of the Core Strategy, which protects facilities that meet Exeter’s community, social, health, leisure and recreational needs, and saved Policy DG4(a) of the Exeter Local Plan First Review 1995-2011 stating that residential development should be at the maximum feasible density taking into account site constraints and impact on the local area.


5.    The proposed development would result in the loss of a significant number of trees on the site including several category A and B trees which contribute to the amenity of the locality and biodiversity of the site. Without a detailed landscaping scheme as part of the application, there is a lack of certainty that the loss of these trees will be adequately and appropriately compensated for to maintain or enhance the amenity and biodiversity value of the site. The indicative information submitted with the application in this regard does not demonstrate that this can be satisfactorily achieved. Therefore the proposed development is contrary to Policy CP17 of the Core Strategy, saved Policies H5(a), LS4 and DG1(c)(h) of the Exeter Local Plan First Review 1995-2011, and paragraphs 130 and 131 of the NPPF (2021).


6.    In the absence of a s106 legal agreement to secure the following:


·         20% of the co-living units (i.e. 63) will be affordable private rented (5% of which will be wheelchair accessible) and priority will be given to essential local workers;

·         Habitats Mitigation = £326,097.45 (in relation to the co-living development only);

·         NHS Devon ICB contribution = £244,480.00 (£163,840 for PBSA and £80,640 for co-living);

·         Public open space contribution = £436,435.00 (£292,480 for PBSA and £143,955 for co-living);

·         Play (outdoor adult fitness equipment) contribution = £111,735.00 (£74,880 for PBSA and £36,855 for co-living);

·         Student Management Plan for PBSA block; and

·         Co-living Management Plan/Monitoring for Co-living block.


the proposal is contrary to Exeter Local Development Framework Core Strategy 2012 Objectives 1, 3, 5, 6, 8 and 10, and policies CP7, CP10, CP16 and CP18, Exeter Local Plan First Review 1995-2011 saved policies L4, LS2, LS3 and DG4, Exeter City Council Affordable Housing Supplementary Planning Document 2014 and Exeter City Council Public Open Space Supplementary Planning Document 2005.



The meeting adjourned at 19:10, the Chair re-joining

 and the meeting resuming at 19:21




Supporting documents: