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Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP) 


UPDATE - 7 September 2020

East Devon District Council, one of the four local authorities involved in GESP, have voted to withdraw from the plan.  This means that the plan as published cannot go ahead.  The consultation period that was due to happen from late September will not go ahead so no meeting is now necessary.  Mid Devon District Council are considering and consulting with the remaining three local authorities to see if a new version of the plan can be drawn up.


July 2020

The GESP has recently been released and contains plans for significant development within the village of Newton St Cyres. 

What is the GESP?

The local authorities of East Devon, Exeter, Mid Devon, and Teignbridge are working together, engaging with stakeholders and communities, to prepare a new joint plan in partnership with Devon County Council) .

By working together they are seeking to deliver the best possible outcomes for the provision of new homes, jobs and infrastructure for existing and future generations, whilst also protecting and enhancing the environment. The plan area is called Greater Exeter and it covers all of the four local authority areas, excluding Dartmoor National Park.

The Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP) will be a formal statutory document, providing the overall spatial strategy and level of housing and employment land required in the period to 2040, together with key aspirations for the environment, infrastructure and digital communications. The agreed document will provide the high level strategic planning policies for the area.

Local plans for each of the councils will continue to be prepared. They will contain more localised policies and allocations for smaller scale development. Communities are also still able to prepare neighbourhood development plans, looking even more closely at their local area. The timetable is to have the GESP adopted by 2023.

Geographical Area covered

The GESP covers the planning authority areas of East Devon, Exeter, Mid Devon and Teignbridge, an area of 2,200 square kilometres with a population of just under 450,000. The Greater Exeter area aligns with the Exeter Travel to Work Area. The fact that most people living in the Greater Exeter area also work there underlines the value of the four Greater Exeter councils coming together to achieve effective strategic planning.

Plan Timetable

The GESP timetable is set out in the Local Development Scheme, which can be read on the website

This currently states that the Greater Exeter councils are aiming to consult on a draft plan later commencing late September 2020 before a further consultation on the final draft in 2022. The aim is to adopt the plan in 2023. However, in light of the coronavirus and its impacts on communities, stakeholders and the Greater Exeter councils, the timetable  mayneed to be reviewed. A revised Local Development Scheme will be published once the full implications for the existing timetable of the coronavirus have been considered.

Housing Target and Distribution

The Greater Exeter councils will target the delivery of 2,663 homes per year in the Greater Exeter area (53,260 total) between 2020 and 2040. From the date of adoption of the GESP, the Housing Delivery Test and five-year housing land supply calculations will be assessed against this target on a Greater Exeter area wide basis. Delivery to meet this target is proposed from the following sources (which allow for a headroom of about 20% against the overall target):

  1. Approximately 33,390 homes from existing planning commitments
  2. Approximately 18,500 homes on GESP allocations [sites to be determined after this consultation and identified in the next version of the GESP]
  3. Approximately 12,000 homes to be identified in future local and neighbourhood development plans [distribution between local planning authorities to be determined after this consultation and identified in the next version of the GESP]
  4. Local plans should allocate additional housing sites to make up for any under-provision in planning commitments within a local planning authority against the assumptions contained in A above
  5. Local plans may vary housing supply from these figures when justified by overall planning and sustainability considerations provided that any reductions are made in the context of effective duty to cooperate agreements with other local planning authorities which do not reduce the overall GESP housing delivery

Newton St Cyres and Sweetham

Parish(es) Newton St Cyres, Shobrooke, Upton Pyne.

District(s) Mid Devon District Council, East Devon District Council

Site size: 303 hectares

Number of homes considered in Sustainability Appraisal Report 3,787 – 4,886 homes

Indicative number of homes factoring in sensitivities and requirements (see below) 1,200 homes

Potential for employment use: It would need to provide a mix of employment uses alongside housing.

Relationship with existing allocations and other potential GESP sites: Possible relationship with site options SA-MD-3 (Crediton South) and SA-ED-26 (Cowley) to collectively deliver transport infrastructure, including rail, bus and cycle improvements.

Planning status: None

Summary description of the site

The site is around 8km from Exeter and comprises predominantly gently undulating agricultural land. The hamlet of Sweetham is located in the centre of the site with the larger village of Newton St Cyres on the south-west boundary. The site includes farms and isolated dwellings, with a golf course near Higher Rewe.

The Tarka Line railway segregates the site with a small station at Sweetham.

Option Site Area excluded from site: Ancient Woodland, Conservation Area, County Wildlife Site, Flood Risk Area, Listed Building, Public Right of Way, Scheduled Monument ,Slope 1:6 - 1:3 (Steep) Slope More than 1:3 (Very Steep)

This site is identified for consideration in the GESP because:

  • The site is reasonably close to Exeter, with the potential to access high quality jobs in the city
  • The train station offers the potential for residents to travel by rail, with less than 10 minute journey time, into Exeter (or beyond)
  • With provision of an appropriate route residents could cycle to Exeter or Crediton
  • The characteristics of the site provides the opportunity to deliver a new sensitively designed rural settlement based on garden village principles
  • In combination with the other potential GESP sites (Crediton and Cowley) there is potential to bring investment in improved rail services and cycle links e.g. the proposed cycle route (the Boniface Trail) from Crediton to Exeter


The site has a number of sensitivities which development would need to take into account, including:

  • A number of designated heritage assets are within or the edge of the site including Grade II listed buildings and the Newton St Cyres Conservation Area
  • A large area of the site is affected by flooding along the River Creedy and includes sections of Langford Road and Station Road
  • The highway network in the area is restricted and is likely to require significant investment to provide increased capacity and flood resilient access to the site
  • The site is segregated by the Tarka Line railway, with access points to Sweetham over railway bridges on Langford Road and Station Road
  • Crediton and Exeter Air Quality Management Areas could be impacted from increased travel movements.
  • A large proportion of the site is high grade agricultural land


Planning requirements for the site will aim to create a great place to live and work, providing well designed new neighbourhoods with appropriate and well managed public open space and safe walking/cycling routes.

All sites will need to provide a mix of homes (including affordable and custom build), investment in low carbon energy and transport, high speed internet and wildlife enhancements. More detail on these can be found in the policies within Section B of the GESP document.

Other emerging requirements include:

  • Contribution to the strategic cycle link from Crediton to Exeter (the Boniface Trail)
  • Enhancements to public transport infrastructure to enable increased frequency of rail and bus services between Crediton and Exeter, with more frequent stops at Newton St Cyres station
  • Improved cycle facilities at Newton St Cyres railway station
  • A package of improvements to upgrade Langford Road to address increased capacity and enable flood resilient access to the site
  • A primary school
  • Financial contributions towards secondary school provision and transport, and GP services
  • A village centre to include local services, a multi-functional community building, and employment space such as a work hub
  • Measures to address the risk of flooding on site
  • Development will need to respect the privacy of existing dwellings located nearby

The Village Response

The Parish Council will be holding a Public Consultation on Thursday 10 September 2020 at 7pm via zoom.  More than one meeting may be required.

We have around 4 months in which to enter submissions.

It is recommended that, in addition to the Parish Council consensus response, individual residents also put in their own response.

The Village presently consists of around 800 dwellings.

Regards, Jim

Jim Enright, Chairman, Newton St Cyres Parish Council


 This will take you to a Map


For more information visit the GESP website from this link


From Cllr Graeme Barnell

New Housing Development- What is it all about?

You may well have heard by now about proposals to build at least 1200 new homes in land around Sweetham and Newton St Cyres village. These proposals are contained in the first draft of the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP for short). Details of this plan are posted on the Parish Council Website and on my own Facebook Page

GESP is complicated and difficult to make sense of. As your Mid Devon District Councillor I have written this article to explain how GESP will work and to give you the understanding you will need to make up your own mind about the Plans.

You may know already that I am not at all happy with GESP and what it may mean both for Newton St Cyres and for Mid Devon. You should know that the Cabinet of Mid Devon, of which I am a member, will be asked to agree to the Draft GESP Plan going out to public consultation in September. The Meeting of Cabinet at which this will be discussed is 6th August at 6pm. It will be a remote meeting using the Zoom Platform that you can attend and observe if you want. You can also ask questions, though these will need to be submitted in advance.

I will be asking my Cabinet colleagues to agree that GESP should be referred to a meeting of the Full Council before it goes out for consultation in Mid Devon. It is much too important a subject to be decided on by Cabinet alone. If and when GESP comes to a Full Council meeting I will be speaking against continuing with GESP unless there are major changes to the way it works. I will be proposing that we either change the terms of our membership of the GESP club or we pull out completely.

What is GESP?

The GESP a co-operative planning scheme managed and staffed by five participating local authorities (including MDDC, Teignbridge DC, Exeter City Council, East Devon DC and Devon County Council ).

GESP has been set up to develop and then implement a statutory plan for all new housing and business development between the years 2020 and 2040, across the sub-regional area bounded by the three District councils and, of course, Exeter City Council.

Once adopted by the participating authorities the GESP will have statutory power within the GESP area and will   determine and allocate housing supply allocations for each of the Councils involved in the Plan and also determine larger site for housing such as the one proposed for Newton St Cyres.

Once  it has been adopted by the four local authorities, the strategic sites and associated infrastructure in GESP is likely to be implemented and delivered by separately constituted Development Corporation. A bid was made in February this year for capacity funding of £1.6m required to establish this body.

In its first phase GESP identifies a number of strategic site options for new development, including the site proposed for Newton St Cyres.  These site options will  determine the location and size of a number of large development sites across the GESP area. There are also a set of Planning Policies that will condition the style and approach to development as well as the way infrastructure should be developed.

The GESP central purpose is to plan for and to deliver the building of an additional 30,500 homes between 2020 and 2040 in the GESP area. This total is in addition to the 33,390 already accounted for in the Local Plans of the four local authorities taking part in the scheme. There are also additional targets for business and retailing sites.

GESP also has other ambitions. These include:-

  • Delivering the transport and infrastructure improvements needed to support sustainable growth. These include park and ride, cycleways, schools etc.
  • Economic growth and increased prosperity
  • Conserving and protecting the environment
  • Establishing planning policies that actively help to address climate change.
  • A joined-up vision and development strategy for the area

GESP -Consultation and Approval

As a statutory Planning Document GESP will need formal approval by the Govt Planning Inspectorate and adoption by each of the participating Local Authorities. It will also need to be the subject of formal processes of public consultation before these approvals can take place.

The first version of GESP will be submitted for public consultation in September 2020. This will last until February 2021. The key stages leading to adoption of GESP are:

  • Site Options and Draft Policies Consultation – September 2020
  • Draft Plan – March 2021
  • Publication (Proposed Submission) – February 2022
  • Formal Submission – July 2022
  • Examination by Govt. Planning Inspector – September 2022
  • Adoption by participating authorities – April 2023

GESP and Housing Targets

In the past each Local Authority has relied on its own Local Plan to set out where development can take place and where it cannot. Until GESP each Local authority had been given its own housing supply target that is worked out by using a given Government formula. With GESP all this is about to change.

GESP stipulates that 18,500 homes within its target of 30,500 additional homes should be developed on larger “strategic” sites of more than 500 homes (100 homes in Exeter) identified and approved within GESP. The sites for the remaining 12,000 additional homes are intended to be identified and approved within the Local Plans of the participating Planning Authorities.

The GESP housing target numbers are based on an aggregated calculation of the combined housing supply targets of the three District Councils and Exeter City council over the period 2020-2040. The overall calculation for new homes (including existing commitments contained in Local Plans ) is a total of 53,260 . GESP has added a buffer or “headroom” of 20% to reach an overall figure of 63,890.

It is important to realise that the GESP project has a single boundary. The intention is that sites should be identified and approved on the basis of suitability and conformity with planning policies within the GESP area rather than with reference to local authority boundaries.

Because it is “boundary blind” there is no pre-existing housing supply quota or allocation by local authority area. In theory, all the additional GESP strategic sites delivering the target development of 18,500 new homes could be located in only one of the participating local authority areas.

It is also important to understand that the remaining 12,000 additional GESP target homes, intended for “non-strategic sites” within the new Local Plans, will also be apportioned and allocated by GESP between the four authorities.

In other words the GESP will subsume the pre-existing combined total housing supply targets for all four participating districts and reallocate these to each District on the basis of GESP considerations of site suitability and conformity with GESP planning policies.  Any new Local Plan emerging after the adoption of GESP in 2023 will have tits housing supply targets, major planning policies and strategic site allocations determined by GESP.

It is therefore not possible to quantify the housing supply target that will be set by GESP  for Mid Devon during the period 2020-2040. For comparison it is calculated that, without GESP, the Mid Devon housing target between 2020-2040 would, if separately calculated, be approximately 7260 (or 8752 with a 20% headroom added). This is just 8% of the total GESP area requirement.

The Mid Devon Local Plan (2013 to 2033) stipulates a revised housing target between 2020 and 2033 of approximately 5000 houses. Should Mid Devon not take part in GESP this would leave a target of approximately 2260 additional homes to be built under the aegis of  a new local plan between 2033 and 2040. This will be more than achieved by the completion of the planned Culm Garden village near Cullompton.

GESP-The location and availability of development sites

The selection of development sites within GESP is, of course, determined by factors other than planning policy. Devon has an abundance of steep hills, coastline, estuaries and other areas prone to flood risk that seriously limit development options .

In addition the geography of Teignbridge and East Devon, in particular, is dominated by large areas where development is either prohibited or strictly proscribed. These include the Dartmoor National Park, World Heritage coastline, various SSIs and nature reserves, and AONBs.

Cllr Gordon Hook, the Leader of Teignbridge DC , has, for example,  recently written an open letter to the Prime Minister complaining of the unfairness of their housing targets given the limitations and restrictions on the availability of development land in Teignbridge.

In Exeter the availability of sites is constrained by the very limited number of sizeable sites within the City boundaries and also by such factors as the cost of brown field remediation (e.g. Water Lane) and/or of relocating large and important business/ retailing areas to make way for housing (e.g. Marsh Barton). The City is therefore under considerable pressure to resolve the growing gap between its supply target and its capacity to deliver.

Exeter City Council, In an attempt to mitigate the shortfall in meeting its Government Housing Targets, attempted to include several thousand purpose build student housing units in meeting its target. However in 2015 the Planning Inspector found that she could not accept the Council's position that student accommodation should count towards delivery of the target. This decision was supported at a subsequent judicial review.

Given the serious constraints on the availability of sites elsewhere there is a high risk that a “boundary blind” approach will result in Mid Devon being asked to accept a disproportionate number of the additional homes because it has significantly fewer restrictions on the potential use of its land for development than its neighbours.

The GESP Strategic sites (Mid Devon)

The GESP draft strategic site options identifies sites that, if all were built out, would yield twice as many new homes (37,000 +) than required by the plan.

The following five sites have been identified within Mid Devon, in the first draft of the GESP Site options, as most suitable for large scale strategic developments


NO. OF HOUSES proposed



Culm Garden Village



Additional 1750 already identified in site allocation within emerging Local Plan

Sampford Peverell



Possible Garden Village?

Newton St Cyres



Exeter North  Urban extension?

See also GESP sites proposed Cowley and Stoke Hill

Crediton South



Urban extension?

Hartnoll Farm



Extension of Tiverton EUE





Note:- Several other potential Mid Devon sites have also been identified by the GESP team but have not been put forward at this stage.

Apart from the Culm Garden Village the proposals for large scale development of these sites are completely new and are news to local communities. Each of the four sites is likely to  engender considerable comment and opposition from local people.  

Mid Devon Council is already committed to the development of the Culm Garden Village.  There has already been a large amount of engagement and consultation with local communities about the development. Although some of the Culm Garden Village housing and site allocation is set out in the emerging MDDC Local plan, GESP will, when adopted, provide essential  planning policy and site allocation framework for the larger part of this development.

Without GESP the build out of the Culm Garden village would , in addition to existing Local Plan commitments, enable Mid Devon Council to meet its own 2020 -2040 housing targets and potentially make a significant additional contribution of over 2500 homes towards addressing the pressures on its neighbours.

Apart from the Culm Garden Village, Newton St Cyres and Sampford Peverell sites the others are immediately adjacent to larger existing conurbations. They can, therefore, be viewed as having the size and locational characteristics of new urban extensions. It is hard, given their location, to envisage the sites becoming ~Garden Communities”

These extensions have in the past often added to the volume of suburbs to their neighbouring towns without costing a great deal in terms of  transport, environmental or social infrastructure. They have therefore often tended to aggravate, rather than mitigate, dependence on the motor car and to produce rather soulless communities with monotonous bulk housing design and poor local services.

The northern suburbs of Exeter remain largely undeveloped, largely because the area has a very poor road network. GESP proposes strategic sites at Stoke Hill (Exeter CC), Cowley (East Devon DC) . Together these would form a de facto Exeter North Urban Extension.

It is envisaged by GESP that the Tarka Line requires significant improvements to both lines and stations to support the three proposed  strategic developments; one within Crediton and two between Crediton and Exeter.


The main line running between Cullompton and Tiverton already has well supported plans for the reopening of the station at Cullompton together with a new local stopping services connecting several smaller towns with Exeter and Bristol. The new station will support the proposed Culm Garden Village Development and also other major new housing allocations around Cullompton.

Large new Strategic site proposed by GESP at Sampford Peverell would be serviced by the new local rail service stopping at the existing Tiverton Parkway Station.


In a “boundary blind” planning environment suburban style development along rail and major road routes like the A377 and A30 clearly present quicker and more cost effective opportunities to meet Exeter’s housing targets particularly if developments can avoid the cost and delays of major road improvements,  for example by limiting such developments to those that can be “rail led”.


There is, of course, a distinct danger that, however laudable and attractive, the Garden Communities and “Rail Led” ideologies will be lost under the combined pressures of housing targets, restricted budgets and the profit expectations of Developers. The current GESP Policies are unlikely, in themselves be sufficient to prevent this.


Serious questions must be asked about whether a GESP Development Corporation will deliver on these ideals given the declared determination  of the Government to “Build, Build, Build”. 

GESP, Local Plans and democratic accountability 

In Teignbridge It would seem that the new Teignbridge Local Plan (2020-2040) has been devised to synchronise as far as possible with GESP both in timetable and content. Teignbridge DC have explained that there is nothing in the draft GESP site allocation proposals that will not also be contained in their Local Plan Review. Some of the Strategic GESP sites in Teignbridge are already allocated and sit within their new 5 Year Land Supply trajectory. Teignbridge, therefore, see every reason to support GESP, given that it will contain nothing that is new to them and may well increase the opportunities of Government investment and support. 

Exeter Council have replaced any attempt to produce a new Local Plan, based on meeting its housing supply target from within its own resources, by the delivery of GESP. In other words Exeter Council is reliant on GESP and the generosity of others for the delivery of its future housing supply targets and its site allocations. 

East Devon Council have decided to deliberately delay the preparation of a new Local Plan to allow for GESP to set the parameters for this exercise both in terms of strategic site allocation and housing supply targets. It is not clear whether the new administration in East Devon is aware of the possible implications of this decision. 

In Mid Devon Council there is a growing realisation of the potential consequences of GESP in terms of our having to accept large scale housing developments that would not otherwise be required. There is also a realisation that GESP represent a significant weakening of local democratic accountability and control.  

This problem is not theoretical. Changes requested by Councillors have,  in practice, proved difficult to achieve. Each authority has control over its participation in GESP. However influence over the substance is problematic.  

Lack of control and influence is partly because each authority has an effective veto on content and , therefore, on any changes to that content.  In addition the GESP process is led by a team of experienced Planning Officers who have both the vision and technical knowledge to counter many, if not most,  of the suggestions and arguments put forward by elected members. 


  1. It is therefore difficult, at first sight, to see what Mid Devon has to gain from participating in GESP.
  2. Large numbers of additional houses will be very hard to justify given that Mid Devon is on course to meet its existing housing targets from within allocations that have either been agreed within the emerging Local Plan or described within preliminary consultation about the Culm Garden Village. 
  3. Public concern about the new GESP site options is likely to generate considerable  friction and opposition at a time when we should be focussing our energies and money on dealing with the aftermath of COVID-19.
  4. There is  a clear risk that such development will not be supported by the additional infrastructure (roads, schools etc) required to support large scale additional housing.
  5. We are exposing ourselves to large scale suburban style development in rural areas like Newton St Cyres at a time when we should be protecting our environment and rural heritage.
  6. There is a clear a risk that , given the “boundary blind” nature of GESP, Mid Devon is exposing itself to an unquantifiable allocation of housing from its neighbours over and above what would otherwise be its own requirements and targets.
  7. GESP will remove our local control of local housing targets and development land allocations and replace this with a sub-regional Planning framework that will decide on sites and targets. There is likely to be a Development Corporation that will deliver large sites in our area and across the Greater Exeter region. This arrangement is unlikely to be either accountable or transparent.
  8. GESP does however offer important benefits to Newton St Cyres and to Mid Devon:-
  • The continuing goodwill and support of Homes England and other arms of Central Government in taking forward the Culm Garden Village and other significant projects (i.e. the Tiverton EUE). This includes very significant financial support for major infrastructure projects like road and rail improvements, and cycleways (like the Boniface Trail).
  • A seat at the table in attracting and sharing inward investment in key sectors of the local Devon economy.
  • A suite of up to date Planning Policies that provide significantly greater leverage over the environmental impact of development, and the design of homes and of place, than that afforded by our Emerging Local Plan.
  • A statutory Planning allocation for the Culm Garden Village by early 2023. The alternative options involving supplements to the Local Plan are likely to take significantly longer to put in place.

     9.  Finally if Mid Devon Council abandons GESP it will be more difficult to demonstrate that we are fulfilling our statutory duty to cooperate with other authorities in the delivery of Planning policies, allocations and targets.   It is almost certain that the government will expect Mid Devon to pick up on some of the site availability and housing pressures of its neighbours.

Cllr Graeme Barnell

Newbrooke Ward

Mid Devon District Council