Green Councillor calls for rethink on County Hall sell off plans and cost effective win-win solution

The Green Party in Exeter are calling on Devon County Council to halt the sale of a portion of land within the grounds of County Hall [1] and for a strategic rethink about the whole site. 

Andy Ketchin, Green Councillor for Newtown & St Leonard’s, is supporting local residents who claim the council has not engaged with them in an open manner and are deeply concerned about the loss of a well used local green space. He has written to Devon County Council calling for a halt to this sale [2].  

Andy Ketchin said:

“Selling off this piece of land does not address the real problem of budget cuts. Devon County Council use only 20-30% of their office space. At the same time, Exeter City Council are looking for a new Civic Centre. A cost effective win-win solution would be for the two Councils to co-locate at County Hall. I have approached them to consider this.” 

Lynn Wetenhall, Green campaigner in Newtown & St Leonard’s, added:

“I have talked to many residents. They believe that this sale of green space land will be followed by others from the grounds of County Hall. A root and branch review to establish the most efficient and cost effective use of County Hall land and buildings is timely and the best way forward.”

ENDS

Notes

[1] Devon County Council Cabinet (agenda) agreed to sell the land at it’s meeting of October 2023. The portion of land has been declared as for disposal with an opportunity for objections to be made by January 12th.

[2] Letter to DCC from Cllr Andy Ketchin. 

Regarding  DEV006/097 – proposed disposal of demolished Matford Lane Offices site.

Dear DCC Officers,

You will have heard from many local residents that they are hugely disappointed at the proposed sell off of this parcel of land.

The original rationale for sale of this land was for savings associated with running costs, and anticipated rates relief, as part of the Property Change Programme of 2019.  Following the demolition of the Matford Lane Offices, a significant part of the Programme’s cost savings have now been realised.  No further maintenance costs or overheads will now be incurred post-demolition.  The anticipated profit from of sale is only a proportion of the savings sought.

This parcel of land exists on a constrained site that will diminish it’s development appeal.  There is a lack of pedestrian access on Matford Lane abutting the parcel of land.  The site is in a Conservation area.   The site is part of County Hall, a significant city asset, in the same way Cathedral Green is part of Exeter Cathedral.  The beautiful and substantial barrier of trees running the length of the Matford Land and Cover Club Boundary are under TPO protection.  Access to the site is shared.  These are material considerations.  They are barriers to future development, and diminish the value potential of the plot.  They do not appear to have been factored into this decision to sell.

The site is not earmarked for development in Exeter Local Plan consultation.  There has already been a step increase in housing in local area through St Leonards quarter with resulting increased pressure on local assets.  These are further local material considerations.

In order to maximise the value of this plot County Hall needs to be considered as a whole.  The clear  Elephant in the room is to improve the utilisation of the site.  Covid lock-downs have proven the viability of home working.  This has led to a paradigm shift in the way people wish to work.  The need for office capacity has reduced, much to the benefit of Devon County Council.  Of course, the same is true of Exeter City Council.

Exeter City Council are looking to move out of the now oversized Civic Centre.  Building a new facility at St Sidwell’s point will have long lead times, whilst the cost of capital is expensive.  The viability of such a scheme is much diminished since first proposed.  Exeter City Council share the same budget constraints as Devon County Council.  They are a viable and natural partner in realising Devon County Council’s drive for cost reductions.

Part of the requirement for that discussion will be to future proof options with retention of asset base, including the Matford Lane Offices corner plot.  There will always be shortfalls in budgets.  A holistic and strategic long term view is required.

In the short term, re-seeding of the demolished site is required, as per the original planning permission requirements.   A five year moratorium on building was also part of that permission.  Any deviation from this in effect opens this sale to legal appeal.  The costs of appeal are a risk to realising anticipated profit.

The original planning permission for this land should be respected.  The parcel of land should be returned to grass, and the existing restriction to development honoured.

It is time to have a genuine discussion about the potential for the County Hall site.  Co-location of Devon County Council and Exeter City Council at County Hall needs formal discussion.

Yours,

Andy Ketchin

Newtown and St Leonards City Councillor

Exeter Green Party