Devon County Council is prepared to let Exeter’s residents choke on traffic fumes so that rural commuters can stay in their cars.
It’s not unusual in these straitened times for a local authority to give with one hand and take away with the other. How else can they balance their budgets without losing all political support? Rather more eyebrow-raising is when a county council plans to reduce private car journeys by the residents of its principal city and county town with the aim of allowing the freed-up road space in the city to be occupied by commuters driving in from the surrounding towns and rural areas.
This astonishing proposal is set out the latest Exeter Transport Strategy, produced by Devon County Council (DCC) as the highways and transport authority covering Exeter, and which is currently out for consultation. Paragraph 1.46 states that there will be a target of 50% of all trips within the city being made on foot or by bike, an excellent aim which should reduce pollution from motor vehicles, diminish congestion and traffic noise, and generally make the city a better place to live.
So far so good. But then we read paragraph 1.47, which needs to be quoted in full:
“This [the target] represents the most achievable way of freeing up capacity to facilitate the increase of car-based inward commuters from outside the city and complements the Sport England Local Delivery Pilot and Exeter’s aspiration to become the most active city in the country.” (My emphasis).
This is either a mistake which slipped through the editing process, or a test to see if anyone actually reads the small print, or one of the most cynical pieces of planning policy I have ever come across. I favour the third interpretation, and this is why.
DCC is a Tory-led council: 42 out of 60 seats, but only 2 of the 9 Exeter seats. The ruling group is by no means made up solely of slavish adherents to such flagship policies as “Austerity” and “Local Government Spending Cuts”. No, it is not Mrs May, Conservative Central Office and the Ministry of Housing & Everything Else that the councillors fear. Instead it is their constituents in rural Devon who regard it as their divine right to get into their large vehicles – so essential for country life – and drive into the middle of Exeter for business, shopping or pleasure. They are particularly vociferous about the length of time it takes to pass through the Exeter suburbs, which are cluttered up with cars and buses being used by those pesky people who actually live in the city, not to mention all those pedestrians who slow up traffic by wanting to cross the road. So what better move for DCC than to make life easier for their constituents by pushing the townies off the roads so as to let their chums race around the city adding to our mortality rates by polluting our local air and keeping our roads unsafe?
Exeter City Council is largely powerless on these matters. Its Chief Executive has just presented an inspiring vision of what the city could look like in 20 years, given the right policies, strong community engagement in realising it, and the political will . What DCC want to do is diametrically opposed to this. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Devon County Council has declared war on its own county town.
 I shall be blogging on the CE’s vision in A Green in Exeter in the next few days.