A bold way forward?

Exeter City Council’s Vision for 2040 is more than just aspirational waffle.  It sets out some very clear commitments.

Let’s be clear.  A vision is a vision.  Those who have done time in corporate bodies will recall the business planning hierarchy, with the Vision on top, then Aims and Objectives (I could never tell the difference), then Strategic Plans, then Policies, then the Business Plans, then Operational or Delivery Plans, then individual Performance Plans, and the many variations on all these that existed.  One of the reasons I was happy to leave corporate life was to get away from writing Plans that had minimal chance of ever being implemented because someone, somewhere would move the goalposts.  So, really, a nice vague Vision is likely to be the most robust of the lot.

Exeter City Council’s new Emerging Vision for Exeter 2040 [1], hidden away inside the less visionary-sounding Our Strategy 2018-2021, is actually rather bold.  It states, sometimes precisely and other times less so, what it wants the city to be like in 20 years.  Because the Council is going to commit to this vision, or something very like it, we have to assume that it means what it says and that the Council’s actions will support its realisation.  We know it’s a vision, not a delivery plan, so its achievement will be subject to the usual caveats, such as availability of funding, relaxation of central government controls, no earthquakes political or otherwise, and (the catch-all excuse for the next 10 years) Brexit.  But meanwhile we can reasonably look to the Council to do two things.  First, to ensure that all the actions it does take – short term and long term – do actually advance achievement of the vision.  Second, and conversely, to ensure that none of its actions frustrates achievement of the vision.

I’m particularly looking forward to measuring words against deeds on these elements of the vision :

  • Exeter will be a model of strong local democracy. Communities will organise themselves [..]. Active, engaged citizens and communities will be empowered to create, share and use data to respond to shared problems and needs.  Can we all now expect the city council to revitalise its flagging democracy by leading a campaign for a fair voting system in English local government, setting up ward councils, bringing communities in at the beginning of proposals rather than the end, and making openness its default position
  • Every resident will have a home that is secure, affordable and healthy in a balanced and connected neighbourhood. Can we expect the end of homelessness and constraints on executive-priced market housing?
  • The impacts of growth will be managed and mitigated and communities will lead development. Can we expect the end of purpose-built student housing being concentrated in the central area against the expressed wishes of communities, and to the creation of public transport, educational and other infrastructure services that keep pace with housing and employment patterns?
  • Exeter will be a liveable city, with a thriving city centre. Can we expect the end of empty shops, congestion and too much land given over to car parks, and of air pollution?
  • Urban planning will protect and enhance Exeter’s exceptional natural and historic environment, safeguard its iconic landscape setting, and encourage high-quality contemporary design that complements and enhances the city’s heritage. Can we expect the end of characterless housing estates thrown up by volume builders, and an end to building on green spaces?  Can we expect the City Council to use joint planning arrangements to stop neighbouring authorities building on our surrounding hills?

Can we expect all this?  If the City Council is to keep faith with the rest of us, then of course we can.  Bring it on!

NOTES:

[1]  Available at https://exeter.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/council-information/corporate-plan-2018-21/ . The vision is on page 4 of the glossy version.  The text-only version is amusingly entitled “Our Strategy 2018-2012”.

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