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Future Cities South-West Forum this December

Above: Karime Hassan of Exeter City Council, who be contributing to Future Cities Forum's December event

Future Cities Forum is holding its first South West Hub event this December 2022, to discuss the growing economy of cities such as Exeter, Bristol, and Plymouth.

The UK government is predicting challenging times for the economy post pandemic, but will that be true for all areas of the country? Could the surge in the South-West economy prove to be a bedrock of continued if not slower growth compared to other areas of the UK? Will the South-West continue to be known for innovation excellence, will research into climate change continue to attract investment and will hydrogen prove a magnet for private capital?

Future Cities Forum highlights some recent research as a background to our discussions this December which will involve government, universities, energy companies, investors, and developers as well as architects and planners.

Exeter was predicted to have one of the fastest growing economies in the country this year, according to The UK Powerhouse report (from the Centre for Economic and Business Research and Irwin Mitchell) saying that Exeter would move into the top 10 cities for GVA growth in 2022.

The report predicted that Exeter would be the South West’s leading city in 2022, with economic output increasing and the number of jobs growing. It says Exeter was expected to see output remain steady, at a predicted 3% by the end of 2022, maintaining the city’s 8th place spot out of 50 British cities surveyed.

Exeter was predicted to see a significant improvement in jobs with 1.9% year-on-year growth, lifting the city from 22nd place in 2021 to 12th by the end of 2022. Exeter’s growth to a GVA of £5.5bn would see Devon’s capital as the leading city in the South-West, ahead of Bristol and Plymouth.

A key area of growth was set to be innovation and UK Powerhouse showed the South-West has the largest share of businesses involved in innovation, at 41%. This equates to 9,900 businesses actively innovating in the region, with improving the quality of goods or services the key factor driving the change.

How is the region tackling new energy challenges? Plans have been unveiled, reports the Plymouth Herald, for a new hydrogen hub to be built on the edge of Plymouth. The 10MW hydrogen hub project, the first of its kind in Devon and Cornwall, and will provide local companies - for example energy intensive industries or those with transport fleets – with easy access to hydrogen fuel.

It states:

'Hydrogen is expected to play a major role over the next 20-30 years in reducing the UK’s CO₂ emissions, helping the country’s journey towards Net Zero and the West Country’s own efforts to decarbonise. Carlton Power, the company who originated and developed the Langage gas-fired power station and the Langage solar farm, has chosen to build its third green hydrogen hub in the UK on land within the Langage Energy Park.

'The first phase of the project has secured planning consent from South Hams District Council, and is supported by the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership and Regen, the south-west low-carbon energy organisation. The Langage Energy Park, where the green hydrogen hub would be built, is also part of the proposed Plymouth & South West “freeport”

'Subject to the Langage Green Hydrogen hub receiving support from the Government’s Hydrogen Investment Package, a multi-million-pound programme to encourage the growth of the hydrogen economy in the UK, the project will produce sustainable hydrogen fuel at scale within the next two-three years. Its development and operation will create opportunities for businesses in the West Country to make Net Zero plans with hydrogen in mind.

'In addition, the hydrogen hub will support the further growth of renewable electricity generation in the region (and newer forms like marine energy) by utilising it to produce and store hydrogen at times when renewable output is high, but electricity demand is low. Carlton’s plans at Langage – and its proposed hydrogen hub projects in Cumbria and Greater Manchester – are a response to the UK Government’s plans for a green revolution which includes hydrogen and fuel cell technology as one of its key ambitions.

Reaching housing targets will be a concern for the region too. Architects BDP have recently announced that the go-ahead has been given for Gap House, an innovative new concept in affordable eco-housing, to be built on disused council-owned garage plots in Bristol. BDP says:

'Bristol City Council’s Development Control Committee approved the plans on 12 October for a row of nine affordable one bedroom, two storey homes on Bell Close in Horfield. Designed by global design practice BDP and to be delivered by Etopia, the homes have been commissioned and will be funded by the council.

'Councillor Tom Renhard, Cabinet Member for Housing Delivery and Homes at Bristol City Council, said: “We’re committed to delivering 1,000 new affordable homes each year by 2024 to help meet the need for high-quality, sustainable new homes in Bristol. It is widely recognised that achieving our ambition requires courage, innovation and collaboration. The Gap House concept will revitalise a disused garage plot and make sure that council land is best used to create value for Bristol citizens, delivering much needed affordable homes whilst tackling the climate and ecological emergencies. If the project is a success, then we will look to identify further sites for Gap Houses in the future.”'

BDP originally showcased its Gap House concept design at Bristol Housing Festival in 2018, as a proposed way of helping to meet the city’s acute need for housing and revitalising neighbourhoods.

The homes will be cost-effective, eco-friendly and largely factory-built using modern methods of construction (MMC). The approach means that homes will be built off-site before being brought to the site for the final stage of construction, minimising disruption to the existing neighbourhood, as well as bringing environmental benefits and ensuring greater speed of delivery compared to traditional methods.

Each home will be highly insulated with low energy lighting to support minimal heating requirements and will use renewable energy generated by solar PV panels and air source heat pumps, resulting in low environmental impact and running costs.

The homes will include an open-plan kitchen-living area and a bathroom on the ground floor, with a bedroom and storage on the first floor. Large windows will allow for maximum natural light. The entrance to each property has been carefully designed to promote a ‘front porch culture’ with green space and outdoor seating in front of each home to encourage social interaction and community cohesion.

Martin Jones, landscape architect director in BDP’s Bristol studio, said: “Our Gap House concept to help meet the need for high quality, affordable and sustainable homes has been some years in the making, so we are thrilled that we will now see it come to fruition in Bristol. There are thousands of disused and run-down garage plots up and down the country that are ripe for intelligent repurposing, so we hope that this project will pave the way for other similar schemes in the future. The Gap House provides an opportunity to revitalise neighbourhoods, promote community cohesion and help address the acute housing needs of our cities and towns.”

This new concept is the latest in a series of innovations being explored by Bristol City Council and the Bristol Housing Festival to tackle the city’s housing crisis. Gap House is part of a wider research, development and innovation programme funded by Innovate UK, which looked at the potential for MMC to increase the scale and pace of the delivery of high quality, sustainable, affordable homes in the city.

Following the establishment of the new town of Cranbrook (sited close to the Exeter to London Waterloo railway with a new station), East Devon District Council is planning to increase housing provision – and one of the options is for a major new settlement. It describes the project:

'EDDC is preparing a new Local Plan that is expected to ultimately replace the existing Local Plan. The new plan is proposed to cover the period from 2020 to 2040 and more information on a draft plan consultation will appear here soon.

The work on new Local Plan production began with a consultation on an Issues and Options document that summarises some key issues facing East Devon looking forward and some options for how the council might address these.

'EDDC has also undertaken a Call for Sites (as part of a Housing and Employment Land Availability Assessment) which allows people to identify land that they consider suitable for the development, and also produced - and consulted on - a draft Local Plan Sustainability Appraisal scoping report to support the Local Plan.

'The Issues and Options consultation was undertaken in respect of support of the requirements of Regulation 18 of ‘The Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012’.

'EDDC was working until recently with other local authorities on the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan, but this is no longer going to progress, though it hopes to create an informal shorter time frame plan with neighbouring councils including Exeter City Council.'

Join us at our event to discuss the above issues for the region.

Below: steps and food market, Guildhall Square, Exeter - part of the rejuvenated shopping and dining district managed by Aviva Investors and Exeter City Council - with re-modelled outside space by the medieval St Pancras Church.


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