Exeter out-of-town retail park secures consent at fourth time of asking

Plans for a retail park on agricultural land to the east of Exeter have been approved after planners called for members to adopt a "more flexible approach" to the proposals following three previous refusals.

An artist's impression of plans for the Moor Exchange Retail Park. Image: CPG Development Projects and Growen Estates
An artist's impression of plans for the Moor Exchange Retail Park. Image: CPG Development Projects and Growen Estates

Exeter City Council yesterday granted outline consent to applicants CPG Development Projects and Growen Estates for an 11,500 square metre mixed-use development comprising shops, cafes and restaurants, takeaways, leisure facilities, and financial and professional services units.

The approval for the Moor Exchange scheme, proposed for a 3.2 hectare site north of Honiton Road and west of Fitzroy Road, comes after three previous refusals for similar applications on the same site. 

Applications considered in August 2018 and July 2019 were withdrawn after the council’s planning committee resolved to refuse permission, despite officers recommending that the plans be approved on both occasions.

The 2018 refusal was due to concerns about the scale of the proposed development, while councillors rejected the 2019 application on the grounds that the proposals did not accord with what was expected for a local centre and gave rise to concerns about air quality. 

A similar application at the same site was submitted in 2014 and refused by the council. A subsequent appeal was rejected by the secretary of state in 2016.

Officers said the latest application included a level of proposed floorspace around 13 per cent lower than that included in the plans rejected in August 2018.

They acknowledged that while the scale of the proposed scheme did not meet the council's core strategy definition of a local centre, the need to meet the local centre definition did not apply to other out-of-centre sites in the local authority area, resulting in a "perverse situation" where separate proposals on less sustainable sites in the area could be approved.

The core strategy defines a local centre as: "A range of small shops of a local nature serving a small
catchment area."

Officers also noted that the core strategy was adopted in 2012 and was therefore considered out of date in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework, while a development that met the core strategy’s definition of a local centre had not come forward.

They said the proposed development was considered to pass the sequential test because the only sequentially-preferable site, the city's bus and coach station, was no longer considered viable after a developer pulled out of a proposed redevelopment in 2017.

Officers recommended a "more flexible approach" than adopted previously "given the age of the core strategy and fact that a local centre meeting this definition has not been delivered and does not look likely to be delivered in the future".

Overall, officers concluded the proposed scheme would offer "significant economic and social benefits" and "limited harm environmentally".

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