Puddavine Yard: Clever by half in the wrong location

Contributing Editor Perspective

Whatever finally happens to the proposed cargo container commercial/retail space at Puddavine Yard, it has so far provided an interesting glimpse into the strange machinations that attach themselves to the planning process.
For the uninitiated, a planning application has been submitted to South Hams District Council to use buffed up shipping containers to create what the developer calls a social hub, offering small scale “pop-up” shops, a wellbeing studio, flexible offices ranging from desk space to private offices and a cafe.  The gathering opposition to the proposal is due largely to its location at Nellies Wood , right alongside the recently completed Meadowside residential development and a prominent vision for visitors to the town arriving from Dartington.

The local developer Andrew Pink and his ERC Developments may eventually end up with something close to what he initially envisioned but so far I’m afraid he has suffered from a case of being “clever by half.” For starters, he’s played a bit footloose with the truth in the assertions he’s made about his dealings with the South Hams District Council planning officers; Pink has let it be known that after looking at his pre-planning applications, the SHDC officers encouraged him to move forward with the project. While it’s true the planning officers reminded Pink he needed to create 1,200 square metres of employment space, it’s not their job to encourage or discourage developers. Their job is to ensure that projects comply with existing planning regulations. That’s it.

One could argue that by not doing any preliminary marketing of the project with Totnes officials, he’s now encountering some significant headwinds. Of the 33 comments logged on the SHDC website, 80 percent are objections, including one from the Totnes Council itself. (Interestingly enough, the site is actually on the grounds within the jurisdiction of the Dartington Parish Council who will be meeting this Sunday, October 7, with local residents at the site to discuss matters.)
Pink and ERC have also reached out to a consultancy called Planning Potential, who from a look at their website, are kind of like the “Ghostbusters” of the planning world. Instead of fighting monsters though, they are called in when a planning application has hit a snag for whatever reason.

We are already seeing their handiwork in a letter that has gone out to citizens in the immediate area of Puddavine. The letter, which has a light, almost breezy air to it, lays out the thinking behind Puddavine Yard and let’s residents know that Pink is considering all kinds of changes, from reducing the overall height to increasing parking capacity.

having to react on an ad hoc basis to proposals such as this one, is not the way forward.

Strangely enough, he’s also willing to look at reducing the amount of employment space depending upon permission from SHDC. We will ultimately see where this all leads. The local residents will meet with Dartington elected officials on Sunday and there’s a strong likelihood that the project will come up for review before the full Planning Committee of South Hams District Council. But if we look beyond the granularity of Puddavine Yard itself, there are some ironies and some lessons to be taken away from it all.

Under any other circumstances and in a lot of other locations, Pink’s shipping containers would have been a perfect fit for the Totnesian eco-friendly way of life. By themselves they are an example of reusing material for another purpose. From every indication Pink himself is environmentally conscious and wanted that consciousness to permeate Puddavine.

If Pink’s plans are thwarted, there will be those who will shake their head and lament the town’s inability to embrace change. But embracing change and signing off on anything novel are two different things. There are all sorts of challenges at Totnes’ doorstep as we speak. If this town wants a balanced demographic, it will have to provide the infrastructure necessary to accommodate it. If it wants that change to come in a way that is additive, not dilutive, to the town’s unique character then it will have to work hard and make the right decisions along the way. And perhaps most importantly, if it wants to encourage job creation in a region so threadbare in that department, it is going to have to be creative, resolute and full of energy.
But embracing a vision for the future of this town by having to react on an ad hoc basis to proposals such as this one is not the way forward.

There has got to be a better way.


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