Person testing in a laboratory
Testing in the Environment Agency laboratory at Exeter Science Park's Ada Lovelace building. Photo credit: Environment Agency

More widely known for its Jurassic coast and rolling hills, East Devon is showing strong signs of a green economic recovery in response to Covid-19.

The pandemic has brought acknowledgement of the link between health and outside spaces. This recognition and a need to transition to net zero carbon means businesses see wellbeing and the environment as priorities.

East Devon District Council has seized this challenge and is looking towards a clean and green future. The Council is driving clean growth to reduce carbon emissions and providing greener, healthier, more vibrant places to live and work, including in its Exeter and East Devon Enterprise Zone.

Cllr Paul Hayward, Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Economy at East Devon District Council, said:

During the first half of 2020, and as a result of Covid-19, East Devon lost more than 1,000 jobs, including the collapse of Flybe. Many of these jobs were high value and skilled roles but jobs were also lost in the lower paid sectors of our economy. These job losses had a profound effect on our residents, on our towns and villages and on our entire district economy.

Our overriding priority is to strive for a resilient and sustainable economy to promote prosperity in the District. We are actively seeking to increase the levels and quality of employment, and to raise wages levels across East Devon.  These efforts are starting to see results. Our plans for clean economic growth means we now have around 500k sq ft of employment space either under construction or being refurbished -- a significant proportion of this to the highest environmental standards.

We recently worked with Devon County Council to develop a new Vison for Clean Growth for the West of the District. This document sets a clear framework for transitioning to a net zero economy, presenting some amazing opportunities for East Devon businesses to grasp with both hands. With new ways of working and the demand for lifestyle orientated working environments, there has never been a better time to live, learn and work here.

In the Exeter and East Devon Enterprise Zone, all development at Skypark (a partnership between St. Modwen and Devon County Council) meets the BREEAM ‘Excellent’ benchmark.  This includes Burrington Estates' new development of 35 high quality light industrial units at Skypark to meet demand for commercial space. The site also offers solar PV and EV charging points, covered bicycle storage and insulated panel technology. Skypark, is also home to E.ON Energy's district heating centre which supplies the District Heating Network for Skypark and Cranbrook.

Councillor Rufus Gilbert, Cabinet Member for Economic Recovery and Skills for Devon County Council, said:

It's good to see that not only is excellent progress being made in building back the economy in East Devon but that it's also focussing on sustainability and a green recovery. Our ambition is for Devon to be a leader in the green economy as we look towards the county emerging from the pandemic stronger and more resilient than before.

Opportunities for sustainable growth in the Exeter and East Devon Enterprise Zone are also welcome. Devon County Council has invested almost £4 million into The Future Skills Centre, providing the region with a specialist facility to deliver training for high-tech jobs in engineering, digital, construction and clean growth.

We want people right across the county to have the opportunity to learn new skills, for businesses in Devon to have the opportunity to grow, and to attract more businesses into the county. We're doing all we can to make it possible for people to fulfil their potential here in Devon so that we can create and retain a highly skilled workforce that will be vital to the county's economic recovery and future growth.

Looking back to spring 2020 where this shift began, undoubtedly the loss of Flybe and associated jobs in suppliers had a huge impact on the economy. Local families were suddenly without the livelihoods on which they depended. A package of support offered a lifeline to families at a time when new employment opportunities were hard to find, as the South West reportedly faced the ‘worst economic shock for 100 years’.

By the autumn in the same year, Dublin Aerospace had established its first overseas subsidiary business, Exeter Aerospace, agreeing to take over much of the Flybe equipment and long term lease of hangars at Exeter Airport.

 William Flaherty, CEO of Dublin Aerospace and Exeter Aerospace said:

When the opportunity arose to make Exeter the home of our first UK MRO (Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul), it was an easy decision for us. The availability of the Hangars and Workshops in Exeter, combined with an exceptional pool of local aviation and engineering talent, made it a hugely attractive location for us. The years of engineering experience built up on the site combined with the support and training facilities in the area spoke volumes for the commitment of all involved in developing MRO activities In Exeter. We are proud to have the opportunity to contribute to the successful future of Exeter Aerospace by creating further jobs and training opportunities for the next generation of aviators.

The Exeter Aerospace specialist facilities provide the perfect location for maintaining aircraft for Loganair, a major airline which has picked up many of the Flybe domestic routes including Belfast, Edinburgh, Manchester, Norwich and Jersey. Both Exeter Aerospace and Loganair are providing opportunities for learning new skills and providing jobs locally, helping the East Devon economy bounce back.

Jonathan Hinkles, CEO of Loganair said:

Our decision to have our aircraft maintained at Exeter Airport, not only brings highly skilled and high-value jobs to the area, but also provides environmental savings. Previously, our aircraft flew as far afield as the United States for their essential maintenance. Bringing this work to Exeter helps us with our commitment to be carbon neutral by 2040 while also supporting local economies.

The environment is the biggest single challenge we face and we are extremely proud of the steps we are taking to address and reduce emissions from every Loganair flight through our carbon offset programme.  We have also been introducing sustainable aviation and hydrogen fuel, in addition to battery electric and hydrogen powered light aircraft, in incremental phases as technological advances allow, for the benefit of our whole network.

These highly skilled jobs help to create a workforce fit for the economy of the future. Training and education opportunities for young people as well as adult learners to upskill or retrain for a new career are provided by Exeter College’s new Future Skills Centre conveniently located adjacent to Exeter Aerospace. The specialist facility delivers training for future-facing high-tech jobs in engineering, digital, construction and clean growth.  

Rob Bosworth, Deputy CEO of Exeter College, said:

The Future Skills Centre is thriving and has the potential to go even further now the aviation sector is building back stronger and smarter. We have installed electrification training bays, purchased new aviation engineering systems, invested in a brand new cabin trainer and are about to make a significant investment in immersive technology to aid the skills requirements of local employers. We are very excited to announce the centre is full and we are exploring expansion plans with our partners. This all bodes well for the growth points in the East of Exeter and East Devon.

Just across the road from the Future Skills Centre at the airport hotel, Hampton by Hilton has experienced a record summer.

Richard Martin, Managing Director of Propiteer Hotels reported:

Our award-winning hotel enjoyed a record summer period, accelerated by very high leisure demand into the South West. Confidence is also building around the return of business travel and the benefits that local infrastructure investment will deliver. Our hotel was the first Hilton in the UK to provide guests with digital key technology and we have recently added 4 EV charging points, allowing guests the convenience of overnight charging.

Looking more closely at what’s driving this green economic recovery, it’s clear that the environment is front and centre.

In 2021, the first electric commuter flight in the UK took off at Exeter Airport, as part of a successful bid to UK Research and Innovation’s £30 million Future Flight Challenge. Ampaire, a leader in electric aviation, is leading a consortium testing regional electric aviation transport. 

Susan Ying, Ampaire’s Senior Vice President for Global Partnerships said:

The consortium received £2.4M for its £5M 2ZERO programme (Towards Zero Emissions in Regional Aircraft Operations), to demonstrate hybrid-electric aircraft on regional routes in the South West of the UK. The 2ZERO programme is incredibly exciting for Exeter Airport as an important regional airport. This project really puts the airport on the map as a forward-looking airport and demonstrates our commitment, along with our partners, to making the future of aviation a sustainable one. We are looking forward to doing more in East Devon including the start of an apprenticeship offering with Exeter College Future Skills Centre this year.

hybrid electric plane

Fast forward to Autumn 2021 to find the East Devon economy bouncing back and overcoming this shock. Exciting developments are taking place at Exeter Airport, as Andrew Bell, Managing Director of Regional and City Airports, which owns and operates Exeter Airport, said:

Regional air inks remain vital for the East Devon economy and we currently have 27 UK and international destinations available from Exeter as we build back our route network following the loss of Flybe and the impact of the pandemic. We’re excited to be part of the 2ZERO consortium looking at the potential to create an electric regional aviation industry in the UK. Our role is to help develop the necessary ecosystem to support the growth of electrified air travel, in line with our own net zero ambitions as an airport group.

Just along the A30 from the airport, Exeter Science Park is one of the green jewels in East Devon’s crown.  Not only home to a new £5 million grow-out space – the George Parker Bidder building – on net-zero carbon operational energy which will house up to 100 jobs in Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine sectors (STEMM), the Science Park’s Ada Lovelace building has been recognised with the Sustainability Award in the South West Property Awards. It’s 20,000 sq ft of versatile office space which is Net Zero Carbon in operation, has an A+ energy performance rating and is BREEAM Excellent.

Dr Sally Basker, CEO of Exeter Science Park, said:

Exeter Science Park’s fourfold growth is linked to the success of its innovative, science-based clients. Our health and life science companies have been supporting the COVID response throughout the pandemic whether it is waste-water testing, innovative COVID tests or supplying critical medicine stock data. This is matched by those who are working towards a more sustainable world -- we are pleased to host the University of Exeter’s Centre for Future Clean Mobility as well as others who are improving waste recycling, developing high-efficiency heating systems and demonstrating the value of trees. Still other clients are pursuing innovative non-destructive testing, Internet of Things and automotive products. We are now developing plans to grow the park threefold by the latter part of this decade providing high-value jobs, enhanced productivity and economic growth for our region.

The top floor of the award-winning Ada Lovelace building is home to Exeter University’s Enterprise Zone, nurturing tech start-ups through the SET Squared partnership which provides business support for tomorrow’s flourishing businesses. It’s home to Remit Zero, a young company developing a trailblazing product cyclo, an emission-free replacement for domestic, gas and oil-fired boilers, due to be launched in the UK this year.

The pandemic has brought a dawn of realisation about nature and its benefits for our health. Quality of life and access to green space has never been more important. In addition to East Devon’s existing areas of outstanding natural space of parks, gardens and nature reserves, a masterplan has recently been put in place for the new Clyst Valley Regional Park, with ambitious plans for expansion of tree cover and new pubic greenspaces linked with 80km of traffic-free trails. The National Trust’s Killerton Park is at the heart of the Clyst Valley Regional Park and already provides public access to gems such as Killerton Park and garden and Ashclyst Forest. Capitalising on the 150% increase in cycling seen locally on the Exe Estuary Trail, the first sections of a new Clyst Valley Trail will open in 2023. It will provide a green link, joining key employment sites at Exeter Science Park and Skypark with Exeter and Cranbrook.

On the southern edge of the Clyst Valley Park, a new health and wellbeing focussed working and living complex is taking shape. Burrington Estates vision for Winslade Park is to create a vibrant wellness community whilst retaining its historic character and charm. Residents, businesses, and local people can enjoy extensive provision, from a boutique personal coaching studio to a fantastic new health club launching soon. Set to generate around 2,000 sustainable employment opportunities, it is a stunning parkland offering the best in lifestyle working. It offers a compelling choice of offices, new homes and leisure facilities.

Burrington Estates Group Managing Director, Mark Edworthy, comments:

Winslade Park will deliver lasting benefits not only for businesses and the local economy through the creation of much-needed employment opportunities, but for the neighbouring community too. The Southwest has always had an edge for those wanting a better work/life balance, and Winslade Park provides the perfect lifestyle choice.