The past couple of months have been a whirlwind of activity.
Consultation document in for Plumb Park - which was at the same time as our request for a formal screening opinion from the Council on 350 homes if we were to put a planning application in. There have been times when we felt that this was the only option - but we are now hoping that the LDF process will support our well considered plans to deliver the only re generation opportunity for Littleham in the next 20 years, plus significant numbers of affordable homes for Exmouth... we shall see.
Our Solar PV site was delivered on time and is now live. This will give us much experience in the technology and inform our thoughts about any future further roll out.
Expansion of Liverton Business Park in Exmouth continues, although slower than we had hoped due to very poor weather. Still exciting times, a bit scary - investing c £3M without any tenants and committing a further £12M to build out all units... all borrowed money but a real commitment to the Town and we are hopeful it will help wider regeneration plans and provide many new jobs. The third phase of expansion is outlined in the Local Plan proposals and we hope it will result in high quality office and workspace for the Town. But lets get Phase 2 finished first!
In Budleigh Salterton we have been working up our plans to deliver much needed affordable homes on the scheme in Greenway Lane which has outline planning permission. We are already getting ready to prepare the enlarged allotment site and plans include a proper water main, paths and brand new sheds for each allotment holder. The Estate will not simply sell this site off - we are committing to enter into a Joint Venture to ensure what we promised is delivered. Interesting times.
Spending a lot of time looking into bio mass options for district heating systems in North Devon and at Plumb Park Exmouth (duel fuel with gas). Again - cutting edge stuff and could deliver significant benefits to communities in terms of lower fuel prices, more consistent supplies and decentralised energy from local woodlands.
We have been involved in helping the County Council and Local Enterprise Partnership put a bid into Government for up to £1.5M of funding to help rural businesses across the county - should know result later this month - we are through to second stage which is exciting. Our focus has been on supporting Family Business learning and thinking based on our close relationship with the Family Business Faculty at IMD in Lausanne.
Lots going on in the woods - much clear felling due to keeping ahead of the disease P. Ramorum which is devastating Larch. Also, much new planting. Including, later this year, a brand new Jubilee Wood on land next to Harpford Wood (Newton Poppleford / Harpford) - more details later. It will be a true community accessible wood - even hope to encourage local children to help plant it...
On the Pebblebed Heaths our application to set up an enhanced grazing regime - to better manage the natural habitats and deliver the recovery in habitat conditions and species required by Natural England - was submitted before Christmas. We await with eager anticipation the feedback...
For me personally - have completed my work on the judging panel for the Government's flagship Nature Improvement Areas Competition - a global first and a real privilege to be asked to sit on the Panel. Our recommendations are now with the Secretary of State to make a final decision on the winning top 12. My work on the Independent Forestry Panel set up by Government and chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool continues - we hope to publish our final report and recommendations later in Spring. Our interim report is already out so do have a look. My time on the Environment Agency Board is more and more focussed on water - this is going to be a very big issue for the next generation and we need to get mindsets (and policies) changed about water as a resource for both people and nature in the coming months and years.
So that is the catch up. However, by far the most impressionable event for me in the past few months has been my visit to Littleham Primary School to talk about the pros and cons of developing the Plumb Park site next to the school. I met around 60 pupils in two groups - Year 1/2 and Year 3/4. I came away with three big takeaways:
1. I am in awe of school teachers and their job - the ones I met were amazing, professional and passionate
2. That children, even young children, are worth listening to. They have no angle or baggage. I took away new ideas and a real focus about what we should be doing to make our proposed development relevant to them
3. The Estate, in terms of its stewardship for the next generation needs to find ways of engaging with young people across ALL our activities. It is a real investment for the future.