That dream became reality back in 2019 when Crankhouse secured a 6 year lease for the basement level of an old industrial building in the heart of the West Quarter of Exeter on Fore Street, known widely as the Indy end of town. In its time it has been Exeter’s GPO, a showroom and workshop for Morris cars, a Photographic shop, an antique store amongst many others ie it is a part of Exeter’s history. I partnered with some friends who setup a cafe business alongside the roasting operation and we’ve shared nearly 4 years of pre and post covid stress and successes together in an incredible space. The support from the local community for the cafe has grown and grown and it has developed into something way more important than somewhere to get nice coffee and cakes.
Earlier this year the building was placed on the market since the owner had passed away through an unfortunate accident. His family decided they’d like to recover the value of the asset and it was sold in February. The new owners visited with the agent and their architect and after a cursory hello/goodbye they left without any indication of their intentions for the building.
Subsequent communications with the agent indicated the owners were investigating their options for developments. They acted quickly and abut 4 weeks ago a notice from the council was placed on the lamppost outside the front door showing a planning ‘adjustment’ for a previously accepted proposal from 10 years ago to convert the building into 14 residential flats. The approval stated that works must have been started within 3 years of approval and having spoken to numerous people it’s been very difficult to find where those works were undertaken.
The ‘clever’ part of the proposal is that the adjustment includes 3 very small commercial retail spaces ‘showing’ their commitment to supporting small businesses as well as building 13 (a reduction of one from the original plan), residential units. I’m no builder but looking at the plans shows how big a project this would be.. increases in height, and width creating new floors etc requiring significant building works and disruptions to the local residents and other local businesses.
We (the roastery and cafe businesses) are relative newcomers to the street. Our upstairs neighbour, Rochelle’s curtains, has been there for approximately 12 years, having been in a smaller site a few doors down Fore Street for 8 years prior to that. They have had their successful business on Fore Street for over 20 years. The new plans show a very small retail space replacing their existing space to accommodate the residential units behind. Their lease was soon to expire and they were asked by the agent if they’d like to extend their lease to coincide with the Crankhouse October 2025 lease end.
I remember how strict the council were when I applied for a change of use for the roasting operations not allowing for any external building changes due to it being part of a conservation area. Clearly the same rules do not apply for the particular application.
A number of community voices and small business supporters (incl many friends/regulars of the Cafe) have joined in asking for people to express their objections to this development going forward. The reasons go way beyond supporting our three businesses (I’m including Rochelle’s curtains in this tally). After all we are not being thrown out or shut down. Our lease expires and there was never any ‘guarantee’ of extension or renewal beyond October 2025. The new owners paid a hefty sum (just under £1M I believe) and presumably they being business people are looking to maximise the return on their investment. But at what cost ? Obviously they’ll have to dig deep to pay for the significant building works, but what about the cost to others? What about the local residents that will be directly effected through road closures and having a massive building project on their doorstep ? What about the other small business that will be likewise affected. What about those individuals and groups that have become an integral part of the community space ? Of course, times change and nothing stays the same but for what purpose ? More ‘student’ flats (that’s not stated in the plans of course but presumably they would be very attractive to overseas students whose parents have deep pockets).
In the last few days there has been lots of social media activity asking people to object to this. In writing this I’m not requesting you to object. That’s your decision if you feel strongly about this.
If you do or even if you would like to find out more, I’ve added the link to the proposal and the current objections if you’d like to make your own, as well as some suggestions for objections.
Here's the most recent communication from the agent responding to my concerns about the future of our businesses in the new site:
"You will know that the landlords are keen to keep you as tenants and once their plans are finalised we will explore the possibilities of negotiating new lease agreements with both Crankhouse Coffee and Rochelles Curtains.
The landlords will continue to consider various development options from which their final plans will develop."
Oh, and if you missed it here’s my ‘Dare to Dream post’ from back in the day: