Blog: 12 July 2019Are generation Y and Z the key to creating a liveable Exeter?

Exeter is a great city and in recent times appears to be announcing one success after another – and not just in terms of the results of the local rugby team. There are several organisations taking advantage of the continued success of the city and surrounding region which are striving for top place in their sector – the Met Office, Exeter City Living and Oxygen House to name just a few. Representing the education sector, there’s Exeter University - a Russell Group university. Ranked as one of the most international universities in the world (Times Higher Education), Exeter University attracts students from more than 130 different countries, as well as many students from the local area, offering high standards of education and a beautiful city to live and study in.

Contrary to its recent success, historically Exeter and the wider south west region have struggled to provide the same employment opportunities as cities like London or Bristol, forcing many graduates to relocate out of the city they have studied in and made their home, in order to secure jobs within the industries they have trained for. However, with companies such as the MET office and Oxygen House located in the city, Exeter is quickly becoming a city that is not only able to offer employment, but also leading the way for these industries. This investment in new technologies is being supported further as Exeter College are building a new institute of technology that focuses on digital technology and learning.

Exeter is clearly investing in and providing the opportunity for a range of industries to grow, allowing graduates to continue to work in the city that they have loved studying in, but is the city providing suitable and affordable accommodation for new graduates? Recent developments in and around the city have focused on providing either family housing or student accommodation, missing the middle gap of graduates falling into generation Y and Z,  facing the very same dilemma that I faced when deciding where to buy their first property after studying – buy somewhere on the outskirts of Exeter in the city’s developing neighbourhoods, or move further out to one of the surrounding more affordable commuter towns.

Whilst I am sure there will be some who still choose the city life, this no doubt leads to countless graduates and young people leaving the city and living in the surrounding area, choosing to commute in exchange for a larger property and outdoor space.

Thankfully, it seems as though Exeter City Council and the other key stakeholders involved in the city’s development are beginning to become aware of this and have created the Liveable Exeter vision. This document sets out how, through the development of eight key sites within the city boundary, Exeter can introduce a greater number of homes within the centre to promote a closer and better linked live/work setting, reducing the need for commuting and creating a more sustainable community. This is reinforced by Exeter’s selection as one of five ‘Future Places' as announced by the government, a scheme that will bring investment and opportunity together to help deliver this vision. This vision is unquestionably aspirational and regardless of how it evolves through its delivery, will no doubt be beneficial to the city’s future. Whilst this is true, the way in which the plan offers housing to generation Y & Z will be the deciding factor in how the plan succeeds. If it can create a framework or a set of rules in which truly affordable, high quality homes can be created in the city centre, Exeter can retain more graduates and attract more young professionals, benefiting the city and the local community. If it cannot, it runs the risk of encouraging more people to move to cheaper surrounding towns and commute into the city for work which, with the removal of parking facilities proposed in the new plan, could become problematic.

As most of the proposed sites are well located, they will be capable of maintaining strong links with the university and its campus. In addition, the proposals include an element of high density housing which will be key in offering a housing solution for Generation Y and Z, however will that generation want to stay in the city for an apartment when they could buy a larger property with a garden further out of the city? Does a next stage or tier of housing need to be accommodated for in order to let that generation grow, expand, stay in the area and with the community they have established themselves in, or will that generation always move on? Infrastructure must be considered, including parking and improvements to public transport, as the plan includes reductions in parking facilities. One of Exeter’s main attractions is its proximity to the north and south coasts, which are often only easily accessible by car. Will the city become less attractive if it continues to not provide parking facilities?

In my opinion, the University will undoubtedly continue to go from strength to strength, continuing to attract people to our wonderful city to study. Separately, the plan will be beneficial to Exeter, as the city is so forward thinking that no matter what issues it might face as it progresses, it’s outcome can only be positive. As separate entities I am sure that the two key players will ensure the city of Exeter’s continued success. However, if these two elements can work together and ensure quality, affordable housing is provided for all aspects of the population - including generation Y and Z - then Exeter will have the opportunity to reach its full potential.

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Exeter University, Education, Employment, Future Places