Agenda item

Planning Application No. 22/1746/RES - West Park, University of Exeter, Stocker Road, Exeter

To consider the report of the Director City Development.



The Principal Project Manager (Development Management) (CMB) presented the application for approval of reserved matters of access, appearance, landscaping, layout and scale in relation to outline permission 20/1684/OUT for student accommodation and ancillary amenity facilities, and external alterations and refurbishment of Birks Grange Village Blocks A-E, with associated infrastructure, demolition of existing buildings and landscaping.


The Principal Project Manager (Development Management) (CMB) described the layout and location of the site comprising the western portion of the University of Exeter Streatham Campus through the site location plans, aerial views and photos of the site and panoramic views from and to adjoining areas, elevations, design and layout of the buildings, the report presented setting out the following key issues:-


·              the principle of development;

·         character and appearance;

·         residential amenity;

·         heritage and highways;

·         biodiversity

·         contamination

·         flood risk and drainage

·         sustainable construction; and

·         economy.


The Principal Project Manager (Development Management) (CMB) advised that outline consent had been granted to build student accommodation and ancillary amenity facilities (up to a maximum of 49,821 sq. metres) and external alterations and refurbishment of Birks Grange Village Blocks A-E to the site’s north-west; with associated infrastructure, demolition of existing buildings and landscaping. The reserved matters application related to the proposed refurbished and new build student accommodation comprising eight new student accommodation blocks and ancillary amenity facilities. The current scheme accorded with maximum heights and floor area consented under Outline as well as with the illustrative/indicative site plans and visualisations presented to that Committee.


The Principal Project Manager (Development Management) (CMB) further advised that:-


·         the scheme would result in a net increase of 1,474 no. student bed spaces, with 2,656no. new bed spaces being created following the loss of 582no. existing bed spaces, of which 290no. would be refurbished rather than demolished;

·         landscaping and tree retention were not subject to the application as this aspect of the development had been approved at the outline stage and controlled via condition, which was under consideration as part of a separate application;

·         a separate reserved matters application for the proposed replacement Estate Service Centre, which was now called Ground Compound Rennes Drive, was also under consideration;

·         16 letters of objection have been received regarding the application raising issues of: harm to visual amenity; harm to residential amenity/overlooking/loss of privacy; light and noise pollution; antisocial behaviour; lack of democratic process; inadequate community engagement; misinformation; inaccurate plans; harm to ecology and highways safety. Notwithstanding the objections the application comprised the reserved matters pertaining to outline consent ref. 20/1684/OUT, granted in 2021. The outline consent approved the proposed development in principle. Also, it approved the scheme's heights and maximum floor areas based on the indicative layout and verified views. The conditions attached to the outline consent also addressed much of the technical detail;

·         officers had raised concerns with the applicant regarding the impact of proposed Block CB on the residential amenity, namely the loss of privacy to existing student accommodation Block J to the north as well as for future occupiers. Following discussions with the applicant, officers were satisfied that an amended design, involving an increase in the separation gap between Blocks CB and J, together with the introduction of angled window bays, would be capable of overcoming the inter-visibility concerns. As such, the reserved matters application was considered acceptable overall and recommended for approval in its entirety, subject to the recommended conditions.


The Principal Project Manager (Development Management) (CMB) also advised that amended drawings had been received in response to officer concerns comprising the following revisions:-


·         removal of the originally proposed footpath and access road leading to Building ST from the west;

·         Block JK - amendment to the junction between roof levels of seven storey and nine storey sections to soften and simplify appearance at transition;

·         Block EF - windows proposed in south-east elevation serving stairwell reduced in width to limit light spill;

·         Block CB – service yard to south reduced in size; public realm to south improved; cycle storage relocated.


The update sheet detailed proposed amendments to conditions one in respect of plans, condition four in respect of landscaping details and condition nine in respect of a student privacy management plan.


The application was recommended for approval, subject to the conditions set out in the report and those as amended in the update sheet referred to above, in line with National Planning Policy Framework paragraph 11 (c). 


The Principal Project Manager (Development Management) (CMB) in response to Members’ queries, advised that:-


·         the original concerns in respect of Block CB were the impact on the amenity of students in the existing adjacent blocks as well as the future occupants of CB itself. The block was now considered acceptable as the proposed north east elevation of block CB was set back further to increase the separation distance and the windows on the north elevation were altered to provide a saw tooth appearance with angled window bays to avoid overlooking so that there would be a 30 degree rather than a perpendicular view to neighbouring blocks. There would also be a privacy management plan to protect student residential amenity;

·         a number of plans were approved at outline stage include height parameters setting out the maximum heights but not the number of storeys. Storey numbers are predicated on the differing site levels and in some cases the sites have been excavated to accommodate the number of storeys. The footprints are controlled under the land use parameters plan also agreed at outline;

·         the request of the applicant for a lower than standard cycle provision because of the hilly nature of the site and to introduce electric bikes instead was not acceded to and two outline conditions require the standards to be met;

·         objections relate to residential dwellings to the north and south of the Block GH were mitigated through the proposed window controlled zone and angled windows so that there was no direct overlooking of the northern and southern boundaries;

·         there are significant separation gaps between the blocks and mature trees are maintained;

·         an image was not taken from the back of Elmbridge Gardens but it was felt that the impact of overlooking and overbearing was not significant. Private views could not be protected and, although there would be a change of views from neighbouring dwellings it was not a harm in planning terms; and

·         there are no regulations relating to impact on privacy where a property has been in situ for 20 years.


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


·         planning permission has not been granted;

·         scale refers to height and width and is a reserved matter. Whilst the maximum height has been agreed at outline stage, the buildings do not have to go up to that maximum level;

·         the approval of square meters could be achieved by half as many buildings at a reduced height;

·         only illustrative plans were shown at outline and, accordingly, the orientation of the buildings, their relationship to each other and open space is yet to be determined;

·         the total number of objections received are close to 50;

·         it is a twin application as this and the proposal to demolish and relocate the estates building elsewhere on the campus were considered together at outline stage. Without permission in respect of the latter, it is suggested that, the former will not be able to proceed;

·         the major concern of residents is the loss of amenity and their enjoyment of homes and gardens as a result of the impact of the huge buildings adjacent. Disturbance may also be caused by the social activity of students. Whilst the wellbeing of students has been taken into account, that of residents has not been and is an unfair balance;

·         request refusal of Block CB as it is too close to residential gardens and no pictures have been taken from Elmbridge and Dunvegan to show the impact of the buildings; and

·         the application should be deferred for a site visit.


He responded as follows to Members’ queries:-


·         there are approximately 40 properties in Elmbridge and Dunvegan which would be overshadowed as would other properties;

·         the distances between the properties and the blocks is unclear and a site visit would help in this respect;

·         there is a huge height differential between the properties and the blocks which is exacerbated by the steepness of the hill on which the blocks are to be located;

·         a management plan for traffic movement is vital, particularly because of the number of supermarket and other deliveries made to the student blocks even though they are self-catering. Furthermore, the surrounding road network is very busy with constant reports of speeding and it is a designated HGV route which compromises the safety of students and others. A delivery management plan is also necessary; and

·         footpath and cycle access should be revisited to ensure that they meet the guidelines within the National Planning Policy Framework.


Christopher Wakely, speaking against the application, raised the following points:-


·         the Elmbridge and Dunvegan Residents’ Association was formed in 2010 to collaborate with the City Council and the University on the re-development of Birks Village;

·         there is a significant feeling amongst residents that the University have not sufficiently consulted on this proposal and that it is a fait accompli. Information has been hard to find and the University unresponsive when contacted;

·         broadly support the view that it is good to use the campus site but mitigating solutions to reduce the detrimental effect on local residents are required;

·         a comprehensive 3D plan of the site has not been available inspite of repeated requests;

·         the steep gradient of the site has been underplayed;

·         visualisations from Exwick were made available after the final date for submissions in February 2023 showing the overall impact of the development;

·         there will be a loss of privacy in respect of the two buildings that directly overlook properties - CB and ST. Visualisations from Elmbridge and Dunvegan and from Exwick show how much these two buildings will intrude. CB is a six storey block with 41 windows overlooking Dunvegan Close from the north and should be reduced to a four storey block. ST is a four-storey block on the site of the current Estate Management building, high on a steep gradient with 52 windows directly overlooking homes from the east. A lower building on a lower part of the slope in 2010 was rejected and now a 10-storey block is proposed;

·         an additional 1,750+ students will add to the already considerable noise, light and general disturbance;

·         the present highways infrastructure does not have the capacity to sustain the proposed development. Birks Village opens onto a dangerous busy road on a blind corner. Glenthorne and Avanti Hall have increased student numbers in the area. Regular monthly speed checks have clocked cars at 60+mph in this 30mph zone with at least four fatalities in living memory. It is not possible to adjust the road and pavement alignment; and

·         the rationale for building on campus is to release housing stock for local residents and, whilst this development is aimed at first year students, what happens when the 1,750+ students in this development look for accommodation in the city for their second and third years?.

He responded as follows to Members’ queries:-

·         block CB should be reduced from six to four blocks to match the height of the surrounding buildings and for block ST to be removed altogether which, because of the gradient, was equivalent to a 10 storey building;

·         the residents accept that development will occur but seek mitigation measures to reduce the adverse effect on local residents;

·         rather than a student block, the Estate Management Services building should remain in situ and re-developed to a higher specification instead of moved elsewhere on the campus. The site sits adjacent to an arboretum and an Italianate garden and intensification would have an overbearing impact. Updating the grounds maintenance site fits better with the character of the area. The reason given that it is at an end of a steep track making vehicle access difficult contradicts the proposal for a student block in this location which will also be served by a variety of vehicles;

·         a major concern is the traffic infrastructure which cannot sustain the proposed development; and

·         there is concern that the increase in hard standing in the development will risk flooding from run-off water down the steep slope and no adequate assurance has been provided by the developer that the drainage will prove sufficiently efficient.


Mike Shore-Nye, speaking in support of the application, raised the following points:-


·         the heights, massing and the amount of accommodation complies with the approved outline permission parameters and this reserved matters application is predominantly concerned with the design of the proposed buildings, which has been developed through public consultation and the Design Review Panel. The result of this design process is a high-quality on-campus development, with excellent accommodation and landscaped public realm with over 1,300 secure cycle parking spaces with Electric Co Bike also proposed;

·         the development will be constructed to the Passivhaus sustainability standard. This level of specification will significantly reduce operational carbon and the development achieves a 14% bio-diversity net gain;

·         the proposed fire strategy exceeds Building Regulations requirements;

·         the development is essential in allowing the University to meet the requirements of its first year and international student accommodation guarantee. It is anticipated that the development will be as popular as the other recent on-campus residential projects; 

·         a recent report released by Universities UK states that there has been a 34% increase in the impact on the national economy from international students between 2018 and 2022. For the 2021/22 cohort, the study shows that international students alone contributed £140.7 million to the city’s economy. A separate independent economic impact study launched by the University last year found that the university contributes almost £1.6 billion of output to the UK economy;

·         the West Park development will help to meet current and expected future student growth, facilitate further employment creation and economic activity within the Exeter and wider regional economy. The development would also reduce the need for private residential homes to be converted to houses in multiple occupation;

·         the plan is for the first phase of accommodation to be available in the 2025 academic year. The provision of good quality well located student accommodation is essential to the success of the University.


He responded as follows to Members’ queries:-


·         38% of the power needs of  the blocks will be met by self-generation and there will also be other photovoltaic provision across the campus;

·         provision will be for both first year UK students and, increasingly, post graduates and overseas students, the latter particularly valuing a campus location. It is not anticipated that this will lead to under occupation of Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) in the city. There has been a reduction in self-catering as students seem to need flexibility;

·         unable to comment on the images circulated by Mr Wakely but the distances between the blocks proposed are significant – up to 90 metres;

·         there will be the requisite level of cycle storage and will adapt to any future demand;

·         drawings are designed to make understanding simpler. The net result will be 1,470 new rooms and demolition and refurbishment of existing rooms. These schemes are very complex and an ongoing significant financial investment designed to maximise the use of the site and to attract students to Exeter from all around the world when some other universities have been struggling. There is investment too in ensuring the wellbeing of students;

·         block ST has been reduced from six storeys to four and three; and

·         a Landscaping Visual Impact Assessment is used in the plan preparation instead of a balloon test which show the separation distances meet legal requirements.


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


·         16 letters of objection were received and late letters would also have been considered. It is not the volume of objections but the weight given to the issues raised even if that would only be in the case of a single letter;

·         matters agreed at outline stage should not be revisited when reserved matters are under consideration. Matters now to be determined as reserved matters are access, scale, landscaping and appearance and layout. What has been agreed in terms of heights had been through the heights parameters plan at outline stage as was the land use parameters plan which set out scale and massing. Similarly, highways issued had been determined at outline. There was also a Travel Plan agreed and operational issues were set out in a Management Plan covered by a Section 106 Agreement to be completed prior to occupation which included contact for residents with their concerns. Furthermore, there was a proposed condition regarding flooding;

·         planning permission has been granted up to a maximum height with reserved matters now examining the details of the external appearance of those buildings; and

·         the parameter plans set a framework for development up to 49,821 square metres within which details are provided for consideration.


Members expressed the following views:-


·         the application was referred to the Committee by the Delegation Briefing;

·         local residents are not opposed to development of the site but are concerned about scale, massing and impact on the local community which they maintain need to be addressed;

·         the Glenthorne Road PBSA is an example of a local development impacting adversely on residents, an application which the University had opposed;

·         the Birks Village and its students have generated anti-social behaviour issues;

·         the maintenance depot acts as a barrier between residential properties and existing low level student blocks;

·         residents have different views to three of the reasons given at outline stage that the development was acceptable;

·         it is a large, complex development which will have a greater impact on residents than the East Park development;

·         the correct decision is required for the long term benefit of both residents and students;

·         twelve new documents were added to the website at late notice; and

·         more work needs to be done to address residents’ concerns and the application should be deferred for a site visit.


The Chair moved the deferral of the application for a site inspection which was seconded, voted upon and carried.


RESOLVED that the application for planning permission for reserved matters of access, appearance, landscaping, layout and scale in relation to outline permission 20/1684/OUT for student accommodation and ancillary amenity facilities, and external alterations and refurbishment of Birks Grange Village Blocks A-E, with associated infrastructure, demolition of existing buildings and landscaping be DEFERRED for a site inspection by the Committee.


The meeting adjourned at 21:00 and re-convened at 21:05.



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