Atmos Totnes and the Run-Up to a Local Referendum
By Anna Lodge, one of five Directors of Totnes Community Development Society.
Atmos Totnes is the project seeking to redevelop the Dairy Crest site next to the railway line at Totnes station. Once a busy milk processing plant (its most recent history) the site closed in 2007 with the loss of over 160 jobs. The site has lain unused and derelict for the last nine years. Local residents have worked since then to bring forward the relevant agreements with the land owners and plans to meet the needs of the town, as defined by the people who live here.
For nearly 2 years, engagement with people across the local area has focused on facilitating the community to develop a brief for Atmos Totnes and to review plans developed to meet that brief. Facilitated by Totnes Community Development Society (TCDS), the plans have recently been progressing through a new planning process – towards a Community Right to Build Order. South Hams District Council will announce a date for a local referendum to conclude this process in due course.
People around Totnes have different memories of the Dairy Crest site and the land on which it sits has been an important part of the Totnes community for hundreds of years. It is here that the community engagement started for designs for a potential new development. For many people the site’s busy industrial feel is clearly the way that they remember it, for others it is the combination of work and social life that revolved around the factory. A number of people have talked about their connection with the river – as children, with family, on hot summer days. And for some, their association is with the historic Brunel Building and the railway. There are as many memories as people.
In October 2014 consultation to record the histories around the site began, led by a local company Encounters Arts on behalf of TCDS. This combined capturing hundreds of ideas about how a new development on the Dairy Crest site might look, feel and even smell, with what residents felt the was really needed to best meet the housing and economic needs of the town. A smaller group from all those who participated came together to review these ideas and produce a brief of what should be developed on the site. Over 1250 people contributed to that earliest consultation phase. Later the numbers would rise, with those reviewing plans, to 3000 and beyond. Depending on the outcome of the forthcoming referendum the principle of community design and review will continue.
This brief gathered from the ideas, opinions and memories of all the people that contributed provided the design team (a group of specialists including architects, engineers, ecology and demolition specialists) with the basis to design Atmos Totnes. The community, coming together in the day, evenings, in meetings and drop-ins, reviewed their material over the next eight months. These designers and consultants have been working in a very different way to usual development projects, with more iterations and more collaboration as they have sought to resolve technical challenges posed by the site itself as well as to incorporate feedback and challenges from the community.
The resulting plan includes 62 affordable homes – genuinely affordable and built to lifetime homes standards and high environmental standards. Additionally there is considerable enterprise space providing employment for at the very least 160 people plus services and amenities to support Atmos Totnes and the community of Totnes. This includes refurbishment of the Brunel Building, a health and wellbeing centre, space for young people within the development centre, a hotel, a grocery, a brewery and a school for food entrepreneurs to support the growing small food business in the local area. The design of Atmos Totnes also provides an important element of flood defence for Totnes, protecting the development itself and reducing flood risk in the centre of town.
In November 2015 TCDS opened for the first formal consultation as part of the Community Right to Build Order process. This is one of the first such planning processes in the country. It provides more opportunities to input than traditional planning processes for individuals in the community, local groups and statutory organisations.
Many people in the Totnes community will now be aware that that plans, which have been reviewed by thousands of people, with many contributing to the design as well as formal consultation, are now at the latter end of the Community Right to Build Order process. The recent Independent Examination of the Order has confirmed it meets what are called ‘Basic Conditions’ which includes meeting local and national planning regulations amongst other national and local requirements.
Within his report, the independent Examiner has said that the Order should proceed to Referendum with all those living within the designated area for the Neighbourhood Plan being entitled to vote. If you would like to see if you are within the boundary set by the Independent Examiner please look at the map of this area as designated in 2013.
TCDS will be out and about in the community, with the support of a hard working team of Atmos Ambassadors, to ensure that those that are entitled to vote have the information about the scheme to make an informed decision. We will not be encouraging people to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’. With the range of formal consultation with statutory agencies, the local Planning Authority and an examination by and Independent Examiner, this is now a chance for people to say if they do or do not want this development.
Should over 50% of people vote ‘yes’ the Community Right to Build Order will be ‘made’ by the South Hams District Council, which is provides consent to build. And if that is the case, TCDS will continue to facilitate a process. This will be a process whereby the community can come together to design the parts of the site where detail is needed, to determine how elements of Atmos are run and how we can incorporate training and education in to as many parts of the build as possible to train those who want to develop their skills.
If there is a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum, following consent the majority of land would come into the ownership, in perpetuity, of the community of Totnes. Residents will become shareholders in the land and buildings for as little as £1. They will also be able to exercise democratic rights on how that land should be managed, into the future.
What can you do at this point?
If you live locally, but outside of the designated area for the Referendum please stay in touch as, depending on the result of the referendum, your involvement will continue to be crucial for the ongoing process at Atmos Totnes as detailed above.
Anna Lodge one of five Directors of Totnes Community Development Society. She has been part of the team facilitating both community and consultant involvement in the design and review process that has been underway since 2014.