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Director’s Take – Matthew Cousins shares his views and support for the restoration and development of building projects across the city

Matthew Cousins, Chamber board director and chair of Building Greater Exeter shares his views and support for the restoration and development of building projects across the city.

Construction sites, scaffolding, high vis and hard hats are a familiar sight throughout Exeter City Centre. Our city is growing, not just in population, but in culture, technology and architecture. It is essential that we move with the times and restore and develop buildings for our future. Without wanting to get political, I am sure that most people will instantly think of student accommodation when new works are announced. It seems to have become the gut reaction to all news stories about planning applications, but it isn’t always the case. There are refurbishment works (like John Lewis) new hotels (like Colsons) and new apartment blocks (like Paternoster House) all of which, whilst potentially inconvenient, in the short term are great for the city as a whole.

The construction sector is vital to the city’s economy.  For example, it allows my firm Apex to support 60 families in the city, businesses and residents in Exeter also rely on the construction sector for their income. Continuous investment in the built environment by the University of Exeter, Exeter College, the RD&E, Exeter Science Park, and companies from further afield wanting to set down roots here shows what an attractive proposition this city is. It’s not just private investment being pumped into Exeter, the local authorities are contributing to the success and future of the city too, with investment in the leisure sector at St Sidwell Point, the care sector at St Loyes and local authority owned housing in Whipton.

As the city regenerates itself, there are some buildings that people may think look out of place right now, but as time goes on, we will get used to them.  There are some buildings in the centre of Exeter which have been refurbished and given a new lease of life and there are some which are still in dire need of investment and restoration.  Ultimately, in most cases, does it really matter to the people of Exeter what buildings are used for? When the Royal Clarence site is developed, the frontage will still look as striking and as beautiful as it did before the devastating fire of 2016. When the people of Exeter are sat on the Cathedral Green, eating their lunch, will they be thinking about what is behind the newly constructed façade and exterior, or will they simply be happy the building has been restored to its former glory?

I for one welcome the sensitive restoration of the 18th century building and am looking forward to the high-quality restaurant and bar space. No more hoardings, railings, and detours, just a beautifully restored building that’s offering employment opportunities and much need cash injection into the hospitality sector.

Now that plans have been formally submitted to gain permission for the sympathetic restoration of the Royal Clarence, members of the public can view and comment on these via the Exeter City Council planning website here:

Matthew Cousins is a board director of Exeter Chamber, chair of Building Greater Exeter and commercial director at Apex Scaffolding.