Two sides to every story: Dartington Trust

Sawmills Designs commissioned by Dartington in 2016 (copyright LHC design)

20th February 2020

The Dartington Trust are currently receiving a large amount of criticism over plans to sell off 8.7 hectares of land, Broom Park & Sawmills Fields, for development. These areas are mainly fields in the vicinity of Week Village hall. Vocal objectors have raised several concerns relating to wildlife, over-development of green field sites, potential pollution issues, an increase in local traffic and urbanisation of a small village location, with a petition on Change.org.

…w​e have been able to reduce our deficit by £1m

Unsurprisingly, with a much loved location around which many people have been drawn to live and work, passions are running high. Following an article recently published in the Totnes Pulse, we wanted to reach out to the Trust for their point of view on this controversial situation.

Chair of the Dartington trustees, Greg Parston denied the accusation that the Trustees were too low-key in communicating with local people and provided an open letter sent out last November from himself and Managing Director, Alan Boulden which you can read here. He also strongly defended the land sell-off pointing out that the development has already been agreed under the Joint Local Plan, that the environmental impacts had been assesed and would be accounted for and that houses would be shielded from the main road by an orchard.  He has provided us with this statement in his own words:

Neither Dartington nor the town of Totnes would be what they are today without the spirit of social change and revolution. However, the current campaigning against the activities undertaken by the Trust are proving to be misleading and unhelpful.  These campaigns are sending the message that the entirety of the trust is under threat, creating fear and anxiety for our community and for all of those working so hard to protect Dartington.

The concerned groups were invited into a dialogue with the Trustees, but after two meetings, they decided to go straight to press without notification to us. Yet now they are accusing us of not listening to them or not responding to their campaign – a campaign that, far from drawing our community together to save Dartington, is divisive and misleading, creating a culture of anxiety which is not collaborative. Indeed, some of the charges levelled at the Trust have been threatening and are potentially libellous, and we have registered those with the Charity Commission.

Greg Parston (image copyright Dartington.org)

On a positive note, the Trust has taken a number of effective steps to improve our financial situation. Over the last four months, w​e have been able to reduce our deficit by £1m, a significant step to securing the future of Dartington Hall Trust and part of a visionary plan of new courses and events to increase income, alongside some practical sale of assets, including a small amount of land.

As I am sure you are aware, there is a shortage of housing, nationally and locally. It is estimated that around 120,000 houses are needed every year across the UK. So many communities are being asked to help address this shortfall and Dartington and South Devon more widely are no different. As a landowner, we are obliged to comply strictly with the South Hams local plan, according to which Broom Park will accommodate only 80 homes – not 400 as some have charged – and, as part of this, we are doing all that we can to reduce the carbon footprint on housing construction and life-cycle and, working with others, to provide positive solutions towards traffic management.

In that regard, in the Spring, we will be bringing together some leaders from academia, environmental sustainability organisations and industry to begin looking at what a transport/mobilities futures solution could be, perhaps centrally located near The Shops. At the moment we imagine there may be a number of nodes that could see multiple charging stations (for bikes, cars and buses), complimented by better walking and biking routes and active traffic calming measures. 

The Trust’s wonderful staff, members and local supporters are all working hard to ensure Dartington thrives for another century. We receive many letters and expressions of support every day from local people who denounce​ the mistruths, exaggerations and – frankly – self interests of some protestors and who encourage us to do all we can to ensure the Trust’s longevity and continued service to the community. “

 

Do you have a view? Comment below…

 

 

  7 comments for “Two sides to every story: Dartington Trust

  1. Mary Franklin
    21st February 2020 at 2:49 pm

    What an extraordinary comment. I would like to ask Mr Parston the following points:
    Firstly how is the current campaign misleading? Have there been inaccuracies? It is only unhelpful to those who want to sell off Broom Park surely, not to anyone else.
    The community were told that the whole of Dartington was under threat by DHT, is that not true? If it’s not true why are you selling the field? Mixed messages from the trustees doesn’t help, are you or are you not under threat, if you’re not, then please take Broom Park Field off the table.

    What do you mean ‘went straight to the press?’ The press came to them and asked them some question, which they answered as far as I’m aware. I’ve also heard that you didn’t respond to any of their letters, so what other recourse would a campaign group have, then look for alternatives. I would have thought any sensible organisation would have answered those letters. They were published and were professional, courteous and pertinent.

    What charges are libellous and threatening, could you be specific please, let the community know – otherwise you are being misleading and threatening yourself I’m afraid. If comments were sent privately to the charity commission then how can they be libellous, they are only libellous if they are in the public domain.

    What is the visionary plan of which you speak? So far it’s only been a question of selling land and houses, if there’s a visionary plan I would have thought now is the time to share it with everyone.

    The only way that you can guarantee there will be only 80 houses is if you build them yourselves or sell them to a local, small-plan builder; as far as I know you are selling the fields to a large-scale builder, who as everyone knows, will build as many as they can because that’s the way they work. There are several property developers on your board, surely they know that.

    Rumour takes it that you are selling the fields with an uplift so that you will be compensated if more than 80 houses are built. If that’s true, then you are encouraging more housing, which is exactly the opposite of what you are claiming. If you are not selling with an uplift, can you please confirm.

    If you are accusing protesters of mistruths, exaggerations, or self interest, could you please specify. What are the mistruths? What are the exaggerations? What are the self-interests? Those are very extreme claims, which you should not be making without proof.

    I am sure we would all like some clarification as to what is happening behind closed doors at the Trust. As a resident, I am very much looking forward to a new spirit of openness and community embrace, but this letter does nothing to forward that, which is a shame. Thank you

  2. John Anderson
    21st February 2020 at 5:35 pm

    Full marks to the Totnes Pulse for getting the Trust to be at least partially open about things. From my perspective the Trust has embraced an old PR technique of a “the best defense is a strong offense.” Unfortunately, there are some core issues that lays them bare as manipulators, i.e. invoking this idea of embracing the Local Plan as some sort of edict that has to be obeyed. Keep going protestors, the Trust has been caught out and is doing the best to wriggle out of it.

  3. 22nd February 2020 at 3:58 am

    It is appaling what is happening to our beloved Dartington Hall, and in general Dartington and Totnes. But Dartington Hall, you trustees are honourbound to protect it and follow the vision of the Elmhursts. If you cannot do that you should not be given their trust. Had they been in trouble, they would have opened up the conversation to the people of Dartington and Totnes, as well as making decisions based on helping the environment not squandering it for profit only. SO that is what you should do. Open up the dialogue and allow the ideas of how to make it work. We are all invested in this place as it was gifted as a collaboration between Dartington Hall and local people. That is where you should be putting your focus. Not just asset stripping til it is ruined completly.

  4. Pat Shepherd
    22nd February 2020 at 10:30 am

    We wish to respond to the content of the statement provided to Totnes Pulse 20/02/20 by Chair of Trustees DHT, Greg Parston. I think initially we should give all interested parties a clear account of our contacts with DHT so far in this matter.

    02/12/19 Letter containing financial questions was delivered by hand to DHT in response to the DHT letter dated 15/11/19 circulated to Dartington Parish residents. Our letter was addressed to Trustees and the Executive team.

    06/12/19 Group of Dartington residents and Don’t Bury Dartington Under Concrete representatives appeared as a group outside the Hall on your Trustees meeting on this date. The group made a request to speak with DHT in person. After discussion with yourself it was agreed that a meeting at a later date would be accommodated.

    12/12/19 Letter raising to the attention of DHT important concerns as to air quality just off the estate in Dartington village and that any building development would contribute and increase this serious harm. Delivered by hand to DHT again addressed to Trustees and Executive team.

    18/12/19 Our first meeting was held with DHT Trustees and members of the Executive team. By this date we had received no replies to the letters that had been submitted. It was apparent in this meeting that our letters had not been delivered as we requested, to all members of the Trust and Executive team. We provided again to all present copies of the letters referred to.

    09/01/20 By the beginning of January as we still had not received any replies to our letters which contained questions regarding financial matters and the air quality concerns, we made contact requesting a further meeting . We then met with Alan Boldon on this date. We again asked if there were going to be any replies or responses to our letters, we were assured that they would be answered. By the conclusion of this meeting we had raised additional questions that Alan was not able to answer without consulting his team, so it was agreed we would submit another letter.

    Also at this meeting Alan was handed our ‘Notice dated 09/01/20’, which clearly outlined our areas of complaint and that we would consider legal action. We then had a discussion with Alan about our intention of releasing the Notice in various media. Alan asked if we could delay just so he could get any legal points checked by the following Monday, 13/01/20. He would let us know if indeed there were any ‘legal points’ preventing it from being published, in the opinion of DHT.

    11/01/20 As requested by Alan during the meeting on 09/01/20, an electronic version of the Notice was forwarded.

    12/01/20 A letter was emailed to DHT this contained combined questions first raised in our letter dated 02/12/19 and the further financial questions now raised on 09/01/20 that could not be immediately answered by Alan. It was requested that we receive a reply by 23/01/20.

    13/01/20 No response was received from Alan Boldon regarding the ‘Notice 09/01/20’ allowed for the checking legal points as he requested.

    22/01/20 No replies having been received to all of our letters and emails to date a further reminder was sent by email to Alan Boldon. He did reply that same day, somewhat confusingly claiming that he had been engaged in ‘parallel correspondence with Rob and discussing responses’. This referred to Rob Hopkins (Save Dartington). Rob clearly states; there was no discussion or communication except to cancel by email an outstanding provisional arrangement to have another meeting.

    23/01/20 We took part in a Radio Devon interview which also featured Alan Boldon in reply. We made it absolutely clear that we intended to make complaint to the Charity Commission.

    07/02/20 Despite so much discussion and publicity in multiple types of public media, by ourselves and DHT we still had no clear responses to the questions and concerns we had raised direct and had been raising since the beginning of December 2019. In particular there had been no response to our complaints and concerns so clearly detailed in the ‘Notice 09/01/20’.

    No response to our complaint? Who could we ask to intervene? We had no option but to file our complaint with our grounds supporting each concern. This was achieved by escalating our complaint to a governance body and that was the Charity Commission. They are an authority that could truly reassure the community that DHT is being operated fairly, effectively and lawfully.

    In your statement you make many further claims that justify response and challenge but for the moment the purpose of this reply is to demonstrate that we have tried to be collaborative and to evidence the efforts at collaboration that we have tried so far with little effective response from DHT. There has been so much more than just our attendance at the ‘two meetings’ as you state.

  5. Fiona Green
    22nd February 2020 at 10:47 am

    I went to Foxhole School in 1958,& was later one of the first six art students at the Hall in 1960. I live in Totnes.
    Shortly after the dismissal of the CEO Rhodri Samuel -who for 4 years had been transparent, open & inclusive in all his dealings with us locally- I wrote to each & every Trustee by hand & delivered them myself. Only Greg Parston had the decency to reply. In this letter, he praised the work of Rhodri,but failed to say why he had left . This behaviour carries the hallmark of what has been going on for far too long & is a contempt for all of us who care for the survival of Dartington Hall. How can we believe a word they say now, under pressure from an angry community.

  6. Pandora Melly
    22nd February 2020 at 12:15 pm

    All London developments, are obliged to honour something called CIL as part of the of development of any site. This is the Community Infrastructure Levy, which is money paid by the developer, to be used ‘for the greater good’ in community projects. I would suggest that this be included, and that any CIL be used to repair DHS, and get it back into use as a community centre for the arts/other.

  7. Barry Reeves
    25th February 2020 at 3:25 pm

    I am responding to the Dartington Hall Trust statement in Pulse (Pulse editing note 19 Feb) claiming that they have “absolute control of our finances, as our certified accounts attest”.

    In my view this obfuscating statement although technically accurate is economical with the truth. Dartington Hall Trust’s financial solvency has, for at least 35 years, only been possible by the continuous sale of its land, buildings and art collection assets. It continues to operate a deficit budget currently underpinned by further asset sales and £4m+ loans using its core heritage buildings as collateral. There is nothing ‘sustainable’ about this way of operating nor any chance of its operations being carbon neutral by 2025 (as claimed). Few of the current trust activities match the hollow rhetoric to be found on the dartington.org website – particularly the statements about community: “Our estate, home to innovations in agriculture and architecture, is a place to build communities and the ecosystem that sustains them.”

    So to bale out its current financial predicament (£8000 per day loss) and to finance its future ‘plans’ the Trust is selling around 25 acres (2 lots) of volume housing land in Dartington village. The Trust will not confirm that they will put a restrictive covenant in the land sale contract limiting building to 80 eco homes as originally scheduled in the Joint Local Plan because a possible uplift clause would benefit the Trust from every house built by the developers. Meanwhile the Trust forgets to tell the primary school that they will have a housing estate surrounding them 8 years before it was scheduled in the Plan! More than 4000 have now signed a petition demanding that the Trust withdraws this land sale. The Trust seems have completely forgotten its commitment to community consultation stated in a 2 Nov 2015 letter to all parishioners where it assured us that ‘it would allow an agreed and reasonable time (a minimum of 3 months) for local people to respond to, possibly to offer to purchase or lease the land and for communication to occur regarding its use.’ When did this happen?

    Whilst the Trust accounts show it has assets of more than £40 million in reality the integrity of the Estate and its mission would be destroyed if heritage parts were sold off to raise further finance or there was a loan default. The Trust has around 130,000 square feet of buildings that are listed but will require huge renovation expenditure before they can be used again. Meanwhile the Trustees find it acceptable to turn its neighbouring village community into a urban housing estate adding to already illegal pollution levels while the ‘core estate’ is developed into a hermetically sealed centre for learning, arts and ecology in an ‘old place with a new story’! As a centre for learning for almost a century the Trust states that it has attracted a variety of leading artists and thinkers including potter Bernard Leach, composer Igor Stravinsky, cellist Jacqueline du Pre, musician Ravi Shankar, playwright Bernard Shaw and environmental activist Vandana Shiva. All long dead except Vandana Shiva!

    It easy to understand why no investors were interested in the Trust’s £20m bond issue (which cost £1.15m to arrange) when there is no detailed strategy or related plans coherent with the jumbled public vision/mission statements that are so often trundled out with breath taking hypocrisy. Many possible opportunities to build partnerships with significant innovative and creative organisations have fallen by the wayside over the years.

    It is time for root and branch governance reform of the Trust to give it any chance to re-imagine a viable and sustainable future based on its community; and relevant to the carbon neutral world we all need.

    Barry Reeves responding on behalf of Don’t Bury Dartington Under Concrete

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