Exeter Greens challenge Council’s commitment to engaging with Bus User Group

12 December 2016

Diana Moore wrote to Cllr Bialyk, challenging him to clarify his comments about community engagement on radio Devon. Here is the exchange:


 

Dear Cllr Bialyk,

Thank you for inviting me to write to you. Radio Devon invited me to comment on your interview with them, as they apparently had received a number of complaints. 

I heard your interview and I am deeply concerned about the message you gave about the importance and role of public consultation. Putting aside your personal comments about Mr Crawley, as I am sure he can well defend himself; the message clearly came across that public contributions aren’t welcome by Exeter City Council on planning and public projects. This is deeply concerning.

At the full planning meeting in January to approve the outline planning application Cllr Peter Edwards committed to ”the establishment of a Bus User Forum to meet with the designer of the bus and coach station facilities to ensure that all interests and concerns were addressed”.  Cllr Edwards had also confirmed to me in an email on Thu 14/01/2016, cc’d to Mr Parkinson that he was committed to a “Bus users group to work with the Design team to help with the Design of the Bus Station and I will be doing that very soon.”

The Council did hold two public meetings and, I understand one or two focus group meetings for selected invitees. However, I have been very disappointed that it has been very difficult, dispute the commitments made, for civil society groups to engage with you on the matter. 

The Exeter Civic Society convened a ‘Bus Users’ Group’ of interested parties and advocates for passengers and confirmed this in writing to you over the summer. This group and other have sought to constructively engage with the Council and contribute to the bus station design – the city council even quoted them in its press release about the planning decision!

The amount of time and effort required by community advocates, ‘self-appointed’ or not, to analyse a planning application, a public project and engage with the Council should not be underestimated. I have been impressed with those local groups who have been willing to do so and help co-ordinate the input of others too Although most groups disagree with fundamental points of your policy with regard to the bus station – all have made constructive contributions and  been willing to engage with the Council within the boundaries of the project that you have set. 

While I am sure you will privately reflect on the appropriateness of your public comments, as the chairperson of the Leisure Centre and Bus Station Complex Programme Board, I would welcome your urgent reassurance that you will restate publically your commitment to community engagement on public projects and planning matters.

In particular there are now detailed but important considerations that need to be given to the project and I would like to know how you plan to work closely with civil society groups, who have made some very valid points which need to be resolved as you move to concluding the design phase.

I shall the posting this email and your reply publically as it is in the public interest.

I look forward to hearing from you. 

Best wishes

Diana


 

Dear Diana,

Thank you for your email dated 13th October 2016, given that you feel the need to make our correspondence public, I am happy for my response here to be publicised.

It has been a key priority, both of Exeter City Council, and personally of mine since being appointed Portfolio for Sport, Health and Wellbeing, to consult widely and listen to residents in regards to the new leisure centre and bus station. We have undertaken a comprehensive consultation listening to residents, businesses, local employees and interest groups.

I would take the opportunity to highlight some of the consultation events which have taken place to date;

• Public Consultation at the Corn Exchange on 3rdMarch 2016 (circa 650 visitors)

• Consultation at Belmont Chapel on 9th June 2016 :7pm – 9pm

• Public Consultation at the Guildhall on 14th June 2016 (circa 1,100 visitors) : 8am - 8pm

• Consultation at Southgate Hotel 5th July 2016 : 6pm – 8pm

• Consultation at St Sidwells Community Centre 6thJuly 2016 : 6pm – 8pm

• Exeter Chamber of Commerce session on 19th July 2016

• Exeter Senior Voice session on 14th September 2016

• John Lewis staff session on 30th September 2016

• Tozers Business Wide session on 14th October 2016

These have been organised to allow for maximum consultation with Exeter residents; you will also note that the times of certain consultation events have been extended to allow those residents who work an opportunity to participate. Residents of course are not restricted to commenting at such events, but can do so via e-mail and post.

I note that you refer to community advocates in particular; I can confirm that we have met the Bus Users Group on a number of occasions and where practicably possible we have taken on board their comments (mindful of the need to deliver within the Outline Planning constraints, operational requirements of the facility and maximum budget spend).  Indeed, we have viewed our dialogue with the Bus Users Group as an important element of our consultation with interested parties during the development of the design to date.

I would take the opportunity to highlight a number of points we have clarified for community advocates; the size of the concourse will be just one metre narrower than the existing, but will have the benefit of extra amenities and being enclosed; toilets will remain open for the duration of operating hours; immediate time scheduling boards will be available; Stagecoach have confirmed the proposed number of bays are sufficient.  

As Chairperson of the Leisure Centre & Bus Station Complex Programme Board I am very happy to reaffirm, at any stage,our commitment to consultation with Exeter residents, indeed Exeter Labour Party continue to do this every week on Exeter doorsteps.

In regards to planning matters, as a longstanding member and previous Chair of the ECC Planning Committee I am aware of my responsibilities to listen to and represent residents, often,frustratingly, only as far as planning legislation allows.

It is unfortunate that the current Chair of the Planning Committee recently had to write to the Express & Echo to clarify that a member of local advocate organisation had not been restricted from addressing a meeting as had been implied in a previous letter to the paper, but voluntarily gave up the opportunity. If I can clarify any further misunderstanding I am happy to do so. 

As you will be aware, we are now in the final stages of reserved planning matters, which means that the overall layout and size of the new bus station has been agreed. The next stage will be the details such as internal paint colour and finishes. 

I am pleased that Exeter Green Party have supported the passivhaus standard of the new leisure centre and bus station complex. As the first such development in the UK I am sure that Exeter Green Party will share in our pride of this showcase complex; once again Exeter will be leading the way not only economically but in an environmentally sustainable manner as we continue to champion sustainable, healthy, environmental buildings.  

Our approach to healthy, sustainable buildings has put the Council on the map and we are often contacted by other public sector organisations from around the world to share our experiences, knowledge and evidence base of the benefits being delivered by the passivhaus approach.   It says a lot for our city to be leading the way on an international scale – something we should all be rightfully proud of achieving.

Our plans to develop this site, badly in need of improvement, will support the local economy, be environmentally sustainable, provide excellent 21st century amenities to residents and jobs (all at the living wage or higher) – all without an increase in Exeter taxpayers rates.

I am unashamedly very proud of our plans and confident that the Council can deliver this development. I hope we can all work together for a successful, sustainable city of the future. I can assure you that we will continue to engage and consult with Exeter residents and community advocates as we move into these final delivery stages.

I would like to conclude by referring you again to the events and meetings which have already taken place to consult with residents and interested groups. I would also draw your attention to the significant coverage in the Express & Echo, and that the Conservative Party during the Exeter City Council elections in May declared the election as a “referendum” on the development; on this basis, I am confident that you are aware, the Exeter Labour Party Group received an overwhelming endorsement of our plans for the site.

I am confident that the consultation process has allowed all residents who wish to the opportunity to comment; we have also met and responded to all interested groups. We are committed to continuing our community engagement and consultation with residents during the forthcoming construction stage, upto and including the new facilities being fully open & operational.

Kind regards
Councillor Phillip Bialyk