If you live or work in Totnes have you ever wondered what’s going on with a particular project or happening in a certain location?
We all know that when we need advice on a whole range of issues we can contact the Citizens Advice Bureau or CAB. Sometimes it’s much more difficult to find out about things that are happening to our local area and in the places where we live and work.
As a new service for residents, businesses and visitors the Totnes Pulse is launching a Citizens Enquiry Bureau or CEB. The CEB will try to respond to enquiries about what’s happening (or maybe not happening) in the local area. We may not have the answers immediately, but we will do our very best to find out and publish the information in a future issue of the Totnes Pulse.
If you’re keen to know more about a local issue or project please get in touch. You can contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whats (Not) Happening with the Market Square?
For our first citizen enquiry Mike Craddock has been looking into what’s going on with the long promised Market Square refurbishments. Here’s what he’s found out:
Some people will remember that in 2018, following a public consultation, plans were agreed to bring some major improvements to the Market Square in Totnes. Since then, not a lot has happened, so what’s going on?
The Market Square, also known as the Civic Square, is the hub of Totnes. On Fridays and Saturdays throughout the year it hosts the thriving Totnes market. On Tuesdays in the summer, it is the venue for the Totnes Elizabethan Market, which in its heyday attracted thousands of visitors to the town. It is also the location for the monthly good food market. At other times it is the focus for other activities including the summer fair, Christmas lights and late night shopping evenings.
The trouble is that when there’s nothing going on, it’s a bit desolate. There’s an access road to the car park at the back of the Civic Hall. There are some benches and flower beds, but it’s not an inviting place to spend much time and it doesn’t give a good impression to visitors.
The Square and the Civic Hall were developed in the 1960’s after a fire had destroyed the original market buildings. Fifty years later, cobbles were missing, some benches broken, and the flowerbeds neglected. The Square is owned and managed by South Hams District council (SHDC), who receive income from the market traders.
Totnes Town Council and SHDC recognized the problem and in 2018 working with local architects Harrison Sutton Partnership drew up some exciting plans to improve the square. The plans included new planters, improved seating, improving the access ramp to the Civic Hall and the resurfacing of the whole area. The Town Council in partnership with SHDC held a public consultation and £200,000 was allocated to carry out the work in 2019.
Work hadn’t started by the time of the first Covid lockdown in March 2020. With the pandemic over, there’s still not much sign of the plans coming to fruition. The Town Council submitted a planning application in July 2022 to build new council offices behind Birdwood House and improve the access ramp to the Civic Hall. The application was withdrawn in November 2022 because the council decided not to develop new offices on that site. The Town Council website says that it hoped to start the work on the Square in 2023/4. Currently there is no planning permission for any of the work envisaged in the 2018 improvement plan.
So is it going to happen?
South Hams District Councilor John Birch has been closely involved in the project since the outset, and is fully committed to getting the plans implemented. He has confirmed that the original £200,000 budget is still available, but there are still a number of issues to be sorted out. There is no accurate estimate of costs, which is essential to decide if the budget is sufficient. There are also concerns about the potential disruption to the market, the safety of the staircase and access to the premises above Green Life while the work is carried out. With such a complex project John Birch is arguing for the appointment of a project manager to resolve the issues and move things on.
The Town Council says that it wants to take the opportunity to review the original plans and look at the scope and use of the square post-Covid. There are no details of how or when this review might take place. Both the Town and the District Council are in the process of setting budgets for 2024/25 and it remains to be seen whether money will be available to move things forward.
In the meantime, some work has been done by the Town Council to improve the look of the area. The Council has painted the bollards, benches and railings and commissioned a local artist Els Doodles to decorate the pillars under the Civic Hall and installed two mosaic panels and lights. A new tourist information sign has also been put up. South Hams Council have replaced some of the missing paving stones with undoubtably ugly tarmac.
Compared to the enthusiasm in 2018 it’s all a bit disappointing. In five years quite a lot of time and money must have been spent without a great deal to show for it. The Town Council have done their best to improve the appearance of the Square but are dependent on SHDC to fund any major developments. With the Chancellor’s Autumn statement heralding a new bout of austerity, it is difficult to be optimistic that anything will happen soon.
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