Proposed Changes to Longbrook Street Development Raise Concerns Over Heritage and Design Integrity

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In a surprising move, developers behind a proposed student accommodation block on Longbrook Street have submitted their sixth planning application, revealing substantial alterations that could reshape the project’s fundamental aspects. Disguised as minor adjustments, these modifications threaten to compromise the integrity of the consented scheme, approved in October 2017.

The development site, once home to the King Billy public house and Shepherd’s Garage, has undergone several transformations since 2007. The recent planning application highlights major amendments, raising eyebrows among residents and city officials.

One of the notable changes includes the unauthorised removal of a protected 14th-century structure near Exeter’s ancient city walls. This revelation, buried within accompanying documents, adds a layer of controversy to the proposed alterations.

The consented design, a nine-storey structure featuring ground floor commercial units and student accommodations, was carefully crafted to integrate into the existing city centre. The ground floor’s 97m2 retail space and an 83m2 restaurant/bar space with mezzanine were strategically placed to maintain an active frontage, contributing to the vitality of the area.

Emphasizing the importance of this layout, application documents and city council planning committee meetings underscored its role in supporting the vitality and viability of the neighbourhood. The approved scheme, backed by a section 106 agreement, bound the developers to these conditions.

However, a series of amendments followed. In June 2021, a renewal was granted, and in the subsequent year, the developers revised the scheme, reducing the number of student bedspaces. Despite these changes, the ground floor commercial units and top floor communal spaces remained untouched.

Further alterations in January saw the replacement of cluster flats with additional studio units, modifying the ground floor commercial units and removing the top-floor roof terrace. Council officers deemed these changes non-material, prompting a swift approval based on a concise 200-word report.

The most recent applications in October propose even more significant modifications, sparking concerns about the development’s adherence to the initially approved design. The developers aim to convert all remaining student cluster flats into studios, necessitating substantial enlargements to the sixth, seventh, and top floors. Additionally, they seek to relocate communal spaces, transforming the ground floor into a communal lounge and altering the two-storey restaurant/bar unit into a single-storey cafe with reduced windows.

Justification for these alterations includes claims that studios better cater to diverse cultural and social needs, citing considerations such as ethnicity, religion, gender, and food preparation habits. The developers also assert the presence of potential safety and security concerns, vaguely alluding to dangers in the John Lewis car park.

Critics argue that these proposed changes would drastically alter the building layout, removing 180m2 of commercial space and adding approximately 330m2 of student accommodation. This shift could undermine the initial approval, challenging the active street frontage that was integral to the development’s acceptance.

Intriguingly, amidst these proposals, it has come to light that a large boundary wall from the 14th century, adjacent to the ancient East Gate, has been demolished. Floor plans and elevations submitted with the October applications starkly contrast with earlier versions, revealing the disappearance of this historic structure. The wall was a focal point in the original planning application, with assurances of its sensitive treatment, repair, and preservation as a heritage asset.

The absence of a dedicated application seeking permission for the wall’s removal raises questions about the transparency of the development process. Concerned citizens and heritage advocates argue that such a significant alteration should have undergone a separate scrutiny process, ensuring compliance with the original commitment to protect historical assets.

The developers maintain that the proposed changes will not adversely affect the building’s functionality or rental potential. However, community groups and local activists are mobilizing to voice their concerns over the potential loss of heritage and the deviation from the approved design, urging the city council to scrutinize the applications more thoroughly.

As the controversy unfolds, residents, heritage enthusiasts, and local authorities find themselves at a crossroads, weighing the necessity of accommodating evolving community needs against the imperative to preserve the city’s historical fabric. The city council faces a pivotal decision, navigating the delicate balance between progress and heritage conservation as it reviews the sixth planning application for the Longbrook Street development.

Dawn Jackson
Dawn Jackson
Journalist Dawn is an experienced business journalist specializing in regional coverage across the United Kingdom. With a keen eye for detail and a passion for uncovering stories that impact local communities, Dawn brings a unique perspective to her work. Through her insightful reporting, she keeps readers informed about the latest developments in various regions, shedding light on the economic landscape and entrepreneurial endeavours. Dawn's dedication to delivering accurate and engaging business news makes her a valuable asset to the News Write Ups team.

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