Exeter City Council backtracks on plan to close bus station
It means plans advertised for on-street interim bus measures are null and void until at least spring 2018.
It's the latest bombshell since Crown Estate and TH Real Estate's Princesshay Leisure project on the site was was scrapped, along with news the council had parted ways with the construction tender for their £40m bus station and leisure centre plan.
Speaking with Devon Live Cllr Phil Bialyk, the chief of the stalled bus station regeneration project, admits the decision to keep the bus station open shows "mixed messages" to the public but the decision is "brave."
"While we have changed our message on this, there is a message that stays," said Cllr Bialyk, "That we will develop the site, we will build a new bus station and we will build a new leisure centre.
At one point Cllr Bialyk said "he did not want residents waiting for buses on the street during the middle of winter" and welcomes the idea buses won't be "running off the highway."
However, Devon Live pointed out that was the publicised plan proposed by the council and inked in for the end of the month, to which he said: "Yes, we always said we would close it, we thought we could carry on and de-risk it.
"It is about timing, and fresh advice from council officers we hoped to move a bit sooner now it is clearer to me we cannot."
He added: "It is not the easiest situation to resolve. It is brave decision, and I'll take the flak for it now. I'm frustrated but I am still enthusiastic and I want to run with this."
The news comes as a letter from Devon County Council to Exeter City Council, made available to Devon Live, revealed county's strong criticism of the idea.The correspondence from Dave Black, head of county planning, to Exeter's Deputy chief executive Mark Parkinson, urges the council to reconsider.
On the decision to close the bus station, Mr Black comments: "This will cause a huge amount of public dissatisfaction, impacting directly on captive public transport users, all of which is considered unnecessary until work starts in earnest.
"In addition, there are numerous operational issues such as layover, driver welfare and difficulty finding bus stops. This will have a significant impact on passenger experience and could see patronage levels dropping and operator costs rising."
Cllr Bialyk says the county's view was not factored into the decision, made with Stagecoach and council officers, but added that he would "love to have a debate with Devon County Council on what they could do better for Exeter."
In a message to councillors, Council Leader Pete Edwards said: "I wanted to contact you urgently to inform you urgently to inform you about a meeting that took place between myself, Stagecoach MD Bob Dennison and council officers.
"As you know, the Bus Station and Leisure Complex Programme Board recently reiterated the council’s commitment to redeveloping the bus station.
"This tired site remains in desperate need of redevelopment and we have never moved on our commitment to create a new bus station and new leisure complex on the site. We remain absolutely committed to delivering this long overdue redevelopment.
"An extraordinary council meeting took place at the Guildhall, to discuss recommendations made by the Programme Board for moving forward with our plans.
"One of those recommendations was to formally affirm closure of the bus station.
"However, following advice we have received it has become apparent that we will not be able to proceed with our plans to demolish the bus station as quickly as we thought.
"I shall be recommending to council that the closure of the bus station is rescheduled to take place early next year.
"Bus users have, and always will be, our priority. It has now become apparent that we will be able to reduce the period of time the public will be inconvenienced by the closure of the bus station, and it is right that we do so.
"With this in mind, it was agreed by all parties that it would be in the best interests of passengers to keep the bus station operating as usual until early next year.
"This is the recommendation that I will be asking members to support at the next full council meeting.
"We will ensure that the necessary communications are carried out to ensure everyone is aware that the temporary, on street solution for passengers will not be introduced until early next year.
"All other recommendations made by the Programme Board regarding the redevelopment of the site remain the same.”
Bob Dennison , Managing Director of Stagecoach South West, added: "We've had an extremely positive and productive meeting with Exeter City Council.
"Here, we discussed what would be best for bus users during the bus station re-tendering process. My priority has always been to put our customers' needs first, minimising any inconvenience to them and this view is shared by the council.
"To this end, I am pleased to confirm we have jointly agreed to keep the bus station open until early 2018."
One resident, John Brownbridge said the situation was "a complete fiasco."
He added: "When will Exeter City Council stop presiding over the series of disasters which is the bus station project?"