Overwhelming backing proposals to enhance a former golf course into a much-loved green space in the heart of Exeter has been given by residents following a public consultation.
Exeter City Council earlier this year launched a consultation on how best to enhance the former Northbrook Approach golf course off Topsham Road in the year in partnership with Devon Wildlife Trust, following approval for the go-ahead from the council’s executive back in February 2020.
The Northbrook golf course was closed in 2019, and proposals initially would have seen the land disposed of, only for the council to U-turn shortly afterwards and rule out selling the site or building houses on it and said it wanted to preserve the green open space for public use.
The consultation sought views on proposals for a ‘wild arboretum’ – a space for wildlife habitats with a focus on trees and wildflower meadows – and asked what residents would like to see at the green space and how it should best be enhanced – and of those who respondent – 96 per cent backed the proposal of creating a wild arboretum.
There was very strong support for a quiet, wildlife-focussed future for the site, with 92 per cent saying they would visit in the future to enjoy walks, views and tranquillity, while protecting the green space and wildlife corridor was the top priority identified for future use.
Cllr David Harvey, lead councillor for city management, said: “I’d like to thank everybody who took part in the consultation and it was very encouraging to see such large numbers responding.
“I’m particularly pleased that the broad concept of creating a wild arboretum was extremely well received – with an amazing 96 per cent in favour.
“The consultation also raised a lot of other suggestions on how best to enhance this wonderful space, and we will now take time to fully digest the responses we’ve received before progressing further with proposals for the site.”
The proposal for Northbrook for future enhancements includes a wild arboretum, with wildflower meadows and newly planted trees, a community orchard for people to nurture and enjoy freshly picked fruit, and a project to allow the stream to re-naturalise, break out of its current channel and create new wetlands, ponds and pools.
The vision for the former Northbrook Approach site includes:
- ‘Wild arboretum’ – the tree studded parkland would be enriched with wildflowers and newly planted standard trees.
- Community orchard – orchard trees provide fruit for local communities to harvest.
- Wilding the Northbrook – new wetlands, ponds and pools would provide space for people to access the water’s edge and observe the range of wildlife supported.
- Linking greenspaces – DWT would manage the site to enhance its critical role as a crucial green corridor between the Ludwell and Riverside Valley Parks, and as a pivotal link for people to enjoy these local greenspaces and to explore further afield.
- A Hub for learning and communities – the Riverside and Ludwell Masterplan identified the need for visitor hubs at both Riverside and Ludwell and DWT and ECC have begun to discuss options for siting a flagship visitor facility at Riverside.
The vision for Northbrook ties into the city’s 2040 Liveable Exeter vision for a city that is healthy, inclusive and sustainable with opportunity for access to green space and biodiversity gain, while it adds that Exeter City Council and Devon Wildlife Trust would like to see the site managed to enhance its critical role as a crucial green corridor between Ludwell and Riverside Valley Parks.
On the visitor hub idea, the consultation document had said: “The key driver for this is the huge potential at Riverside to draw visitors from around the city as well as beyond, to connect with the nearby historic Quayside and activity hub at Haven Banks, and to open up the Riverside Valley Park as a flagship greenspace for natural activity and leisure.
“Refreshment facilities at Bromham’s Farm Field would enable visitors to stay longer and do more in this special place, and we would provide trails, leisure facilities, natural play and opportunities for outdoor pursuits on and around an enhanced wetland site on the Exe River and Canal banks. We would aim for around 100,000 visitors each year.”
The vision concluded: “The Northbrook Approach site presents a fantastic opportunity to establish, enhance and safeguard a crucial natural infrastructure corridor in the city and it holds the key to unlocking the greatest potential of the two largest Valley Parks, Riverside and Ludwell.
“With these two greenspaces under DWT management and with discussions underway between ECC and DWT about proposals for visitor facilities at Riverside, this is a perfect opportunity to work together to develop a proposal for the future of this strategically crucial site.
“We propose to work in partnership to engage a diverse range of communities and stakeholders in the local area about the potential for the site as a Wild Arboretum and a community space.”
The Council and DWT will look at the results in detail and a report will be produced to outline the next steps that they proposed to take in the autumn of 2021.
Peter Burgess, director of nature Recovery at Devon Wildlife Trust, said: “We’re delighted that so many people in Exeter have responded and share our enthusiasm to help make this special place wilder and give many more people access to nature on their doorstep.
“Having tranquil spaces to unwind and recharge is more important now than ever before. It’s great that people also recognise the importance of this site in the local landscape as a crucial connection between Ludwell and Riverside, for people and wildlife.
“We’re very much looking forward to working with the City Council to develop this vision into a plan, and ensuring communities are at the heart of shaping its future, which I’m sure will be a bright one.”
By Daniel Clark, local democracy reporter