NewsPulseTotnes Town

The Dairy Crest Site Planning Inquiry

Well, it’s over.

As planning inquiries go – and I’ve been to a few – it was mercifully short, albeit delayed and split into two parts. And it was one of the most complicated. With Atmos and Brunel Park at loggerheads.

On Wednesday morning the KCs, planning consultants, supporters of the Atmos scheme and the Government’s Inspector of Planning gathered around the council chamber table in Follaton House ready, ever so politely, to do battle for the honour of their relative sides. A two-man team from South Hams District Council were there to keep an eye. It was its refusal of Fastglobe’s plan which led to this inquiry. Microphones were tested. The costs were discussed – who will pay and how much?     TBA!Fastglobe Logo

The legalese and house keeping out of the way it was the turn of members of the public to speak. One local resident who lives close to the old Dairy Crest site said it was an eyesore. The land owners, Fastglobe, had he said made no attempt to engage with the community. “What is the point of the Local Plan if the local people aren’t involved?” he asked. Good point, but not the point of this inquiry.

Burnel Park LogoTone it down….

Then another person, long involved with the Atmos site– as he was determined to call it – had his say. The gist – and I’m not going to quote it all here – was that one man was the reason why the planning inquiry was being held. One man whose involvement had stopped the Utopian dream of 62 affordable houses and community spaces . He was in the room, looking at his phone. He was Patrick Gillies.  – Who carried on looking at his phone.

The Inspector at one point asked for “fewer adjectives” to be used to “take the tone down”. I have never heard such a deeply personal statement against an individual being read out in an
inquiry.

What is the point of the Local Plan if the local people aren’t involved?

Patrick Gillies is the leader of the Brunel Park Partnership, a development team set up by Fastglobe to regenerate the Brunel Park site – as they call it. Fastglobe is based in Essex. Patrick Gillies lives locally. This is the plan the inspector is being asked to decide on, not the Atmos plan, because that lies in abeyance. Fastglobe’s barrister, Charlie Banner, said they rejected the man’s analysis, and reminded us that the laws of defamation applied in these proceedings.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Kevin McCloud and Rob Hopkins in bouyant mood
More optimistic times

Back to the grindstone

After that dramatic moment it was back to the nit-picking – vital, inquiry deciding nit-picking – about the Fastglobe plan. Cross examining evidence that’s been presented, then rebutted, chewed
over and will ultimately be judged by the Inspector. The case put forward by Totnes Community Builders is not that their old scheme – approved in a community referendum in 2016 by 86 per cent of voters – is BETTER (although it was approved by the SHDC) but that Fastglobe has no intention of building anything , but will instead hold on to the land until its worth while selling it. TCB argue that this is a material consideration for the Inspector. In other words, a valid reason for refusing the appeal.

Au contraire, say Fastglobe in a document submitted to the inquiry. “We have every intention to bring forward the site’s development at the soonest opportunity if planning permission is granted.

Viability

The inspector is not only being asked to decide if the Fastglobe scheme will go ahead and has enough merit to go ahead, but is also being asked to look at whether the Fastglobe scheme is viable – because part of its case has been that the Atmos scheme has never been commercially viable, and that’s really why it failed to go ahead. As it’s always stressed from the outset, the TCB scheme is not and has never been based on profit, but the community benefit it would bring to Totnes.

We have every intention to bring forward the site’s development

So is Fastglobe’s project, for 80 dwellings, employment space etc, viable in strict cash terms? Land and planning expert Andrew Kitchener, for Fastglobe, reported in his evidence that in his view, adding up the sale of 80 houses – £5.6 million – and the employment land – £385,000 – MINUS the costs of clearing the complicated, contaminated, site (and building a bat house) – in total £928,610 – the site will be worth £5 million. Which would be a worthwhile bet.

Remember, Saputo (the old owner, formerly DairyCrest) agreed in principle to sell it to TCB – until it didn’t – for £5,460,000. The five million coming from a percentage of sales called in the jargon “overage”. Yet it sold it to Fastglobe for £1,350,000.

What next?

Brunel Park Masterplan
Brunel Park Proposals

Totnes Community Builders has a revised planning application waiting in the wings, should Fastglobe lose and either decide to sell the site to them – unlikely – or if the site is compulsorily purchased by South Hams council. There is already support for that. But if Fastglobe does win, and starts building, then that must be it for Atmos. The idealistic notion which hatched in 2007, that a community could build what a town really needed and wanted, would surely be over.

As that member of the public said, What is the point of the local plan if local people aren’t involved? But the Inspector has to judge the appeal on planning rules, not sentiment.
I really don’t envy her her job.

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claire morley
claire morley
1 month ago

It’s so great to have a local news source that really gives the kind of insights you want to know about.

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