An open letter on the Bus & Coach Station Redevelopment

Exeter Bus & Coach Station Redevelopment

Now that the outline planning application for the Bus & Coach Station site has been submitted on behalf of The Crown Estate Commissioners and Henderson TIAA, I would like to take this opportunity to update you on the reasons behind the proposals and the next steps for the project.

Why do we need a new leisure centre and swimming pool?
As everyone who uses it knows, the Pyramids Leisure Centre is on its last legs. It has served the city well since the 1940’s, but is now reaching the end of its lifespan.

The existing six lane pool isn’t big enough to cope with the demands of a city many times bigger than when the pool was first built and access is particularly difficult for many disabled and older residents. The new leisure centre will provide the increased capacity we need and will dramatically improve the experience for users with accessible changing rooms and stepped access to the water, as is the norm in modern pools.

It is also important to consider the cost of doing nothing. Crucial bits of kit are starting to fail, and mechanical breakdowns are already leading to more frequent closures and inconveniences for users at Pyramids. It is difficult and very expensive to replace parts in a pool this old. Continuing to patch it up would require a multi-million pound investment without actually improving the experience for users. A new low-energy leisure centre will also save the Council thousands of pounds in future running costs and presents the opportunity to generate additional income streams from fitness centres, studios and spa facilities not available in the Pyramids Centre.

Why should we build it in the city centre?
Some have suggested that the city centre is not the right place for a new pool. However, the new pool will be just a stone’s throw from where the Pyramids is now. Putting it out of town would mean losing an important community asset that has been in the city centre since the 1940’s.

The city centre is also the only area of Exeter accessible to all residents by public transport. Around a third of Exeter residents do not have access to a car, so sticking a new facility on the edge of the city would mean it is simply not accessible for many people.

These reasons alone would justify locating the leisure centre in the city centre, but there is also a clear benefit to the local economy. Everyone knows that city centres across the country are struggling. It is not just the aftermath of the global financial crisis. The internet has had a massive impact on shopping habits, and the proportion of on-line sale is only expected to increase. To survive and thrive, city centres must adapt and offer visitors a whole range of services, attractions and activities, becoming community hubs and visitor destinations, not merely shopping centres.

The City Council recognises this, and continues to invest in arts, culture and events to attract more visitors and to keep them in the city for longer. Based on comparable facilities around the country, a new leisure centre would expect to bring two to three times the number of visitors to our fantastic Royal Albert Memorial Museum for instance. This has been confirmed by the project architects, who have built over 100 leisure centres and swimming pools around the country. Modern changing facilities will mean visitors can enjoy a swim, sauna or fitness class, before going shopping, having a meal or going to the cinema.

How will it be paid for?
Some people have also raised concerns about the cost. As I have said, the cost of maintaining the Pyramids is extremely high. A significant amount of funding for the new pool will come from New Homes Bonus and has already been saved. This is the reward the Council receives for providing new housing in the city. The remaining cost will be provided by capital receipts and from the Community Infrastructure Levy.

Why do we need another cinema?
The outline planning application submitted on behalf of The Crown Estate and Hendersons indicates that a new cinema will be provided as part of their retail and leisure proposals. The masterplan principles for the redevelopment require that any proposed scheme is commercially viable and sustainable on a long-term basis. This requires a mix of uses that is commercially deliverable and that adds to the overall offer in the city centre.

The cinema proposed is intended to augment the quality of the offer in a location where we are promoting the leisure based and evening economy. It is felt that this facility, together with other commercial leisure elements, cafes, restaurants and bars together with new retail units added to the attraction of the Council’s new leisure centre, creates a coherent and deliverable whole that will add to and reinforce the growing vitality of the city centre.

Why not provide a theatre on the site?
The masterplan principles for the site require that any proposals for development be commercially viable and sustainable in the long-term. A case for a theatre that would meet these requirements has not been made. The City Council itself certainly does not have the resources to promote such a scheme and, in the absence of any other credible proposition it is not felt that it can be pursued on this site. Nevertheless, we are mindful of the views expressed by some regarding the need for a city centre theatre location and are willing to discuss the matter with any interested parties.

Can we not have a farmers market or other market in the new space?
There are no specific plans in the outline planning application to site or relocate farmers or street markets in the new space. However, as part of the plans, the developers are proposing a new amphitheatre which would create opportunities for community events, shows and live screenings which would all provide a valuable addition to the vibrancy of the city centre.

What happens next?
The Crown Estate and Hendersons have submitted an outline planning application for the whole site which identifies the commercial, leisure and retail scheme and the City Council’s scheme for the leisure centre and bus station. Delivery of both projects remains subject to planning consent being granted and continuing commercial viability. The planning process is now truly underway and local residents who have any comments are encouraged to submit the same in the normal way.

I hope that you feel that this is a useful summary of the current position and picks up on a number of issues that you have been questioned about recently.

Should you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely

Councillor Peter Edwards
Leader, Exeter City Council

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