Car parks as an object lesson in local politics

The future of the car parks in town are just one of the issues facing Totnesians as they seek to maintain the town’s unique character while at the same time allowing for growth. In keeping with the editorial mission of the Totnes Pulse, Contributing Editor John Anderson takes a look at the political challenges inherent in the development of those parking lots and concludes that the liberals and progressives among us should hold their fire with South Hams District Council until the meaningful part of the issue appears.

When I sat down to write this piece, it was with the intention of accusing South Hams District Council of exercising arrogance, an almost studied insensitivity in the way that it has dealt with Totnes in the matter of potential development of some of the town’s parking lots.

Interestingly enough though, as I looked into the matter I came up with a rather different feeling about things – a feeling that is worth thinking about as the town moves forward.

Let me explain.

…friction in politics can also strangely enough be a lubricant for positive change.

As long as I’ve lived in this town, there has been a palpable friction between the Conservative-led South Hams District Council (SHDC), which is the principal authority we live under, and the liberals/progressives on the Totnes Council.

Fair enough, friction in politics can also strangely enough be a lubricant for positive change, enlightened policies and more thought through planning and development.

But when that friction becomes less intelligent, less driven by specifics and more by ideology then predictability arises within the system that leads initially to mindless divisiveness and eventually to sclerosis.

Let’s get back to the car parks.

Several months ago, the SHDC decided it would devote a portion of its regular public meeting to meet privately to discuss the development of some of the Totnes parking lots.The decision to hold that session without the press or greater public in attendance ignited a great deal of indignant reaction among the liberals and progressives on Totnes Council. And in all fairness, while the SDHC decided it would explain its action by reciting the technicalities that allow such an action, they would have been better served by giving a fuller, more informal and more understandable explanation as well.

At the end of the day, SDHC was within its rights to convene privately on the grounds that any public discussion could provide a commercial edge to any developer interested in laying their hands on one or all of those parking lots.

So where do we stand at the moment? Well, SDHC has acknowledged that it has awarded a £150,000 contract to CCD Properties Ltd. to provide a scoping project for the lots.

We don’t know much about CCD Properties or its founder Charlie Miller but we have been assured by the SDHC that at some point sooner than later, all of this will come into the public domain and Totnes Council and its citizenry will be listened to.

One imagines that the real issue will come when we find out which of the three easily imaginable futures for our car parks is put on the table. Do we use them for commercial space which will have a huge impact on the high street; do we use them for housing at which time the density issue could foster a bit of the “Not in my backyard” syndrome or are they left as they are.

That will be a discussion worth having. But it would be in everyone’s best interests if the important bits of the issue are dealt with with a fresh eye, not one clouded up with the negative sentiments that are surfacing in the preliminaries.



The Totnes Pulse will be investigating and reporting back on important issues facing the town and will endeavor to present and clarify the facts behind the issues – independantly shining a light on the truth behind the hype and the stories. Contact the pulse on or via our facebook page.

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