Yet more development plans…

Seconds out!!…

Just over a year ago, after an enormous, unified effort by the town, SHDC bowed to pressure and removed the 70 houses earmarked for our central car parks. This was from the Joint Local Plan.  At the time, Paul Wesley who led the campaign against the housing, remarked sadly, that he very much doubted that we had heard the last of it.  And so it proved, although it has reappeared much quicker than we had anticipated.  So here we have it, Round 2 or Round 8 as people who have been fighting this since the beginning of the Millennium call it. 

Finances under strain

Following their much derided ‘secret meeting’ in the summer, it was decided that their two asset managers would be given a sizeable chunk of our money to look into the viability of building on our car parks and the car parks of other South Hams towns – Kingsbridge, South Brent, Salcombe and Ivybridge.  Or in other words making money out of our car parks to balance their books.  I totally understand the position that SHDC is in.  They are asset heavy, but cash poor and now that they are no longer funded by central government, they are looking to realise those assets.

this is not the way that local democracies should be run

The trouble is that ‘realising’ their assets will have a very long term detrimental effect on the towns those assets belong to.  Instead of approaching those towns to work with them for a meaningful solution and using the money to explore ideas in conjunction with the town; South Hams has taken the novel approach of trying to secretly manipulate these towns and force development on them whether they like it or not.  To this end, they had their notorious secret meeting in the summer, where our district councillors were not just threatened with suspension if they let it be known what was discussed, but with financial penalties.  The public were excluded and the press were told to leave; this is not the way that local democracies should be run.  They are paid for by us and work for us, recently however, our own district council seems to have forgotten their obligations and increasingly view the people who pay for them and the people they serve, as obstacles in their pursuit of financial health.  This is not ok, it’s not ok on any level and we should take that as an absolute.  It transpired later that the reason for all this secrecy was that a supermarket was interested in taking over Victoria car park and probably there were other commercial interests at stake, but alienating the public at this very early stage was not the smartest thing SHDC could have done.  They also flatly denied the supermarket interest, although now it’s been revealed as true, they are busy downplaying it.  I am not someone who automatically criticizes South Hams, I understand their predicament, but I personally think they are behaving in a very worrying way.

Secret Meetings

Cut to these ridiculous closed meetings with the town council.  Why on earth should these meetings not be totally open and transparent?  Why are the press not there?  Why are they not minuted?  Why are we playing these ridiculous games?  I very much suspect they think they can divide the council and the town in the way that developers always try to do.  It’s an old developers trick, but why are SHDC acting like developers?  Basically they are playing a game of ‘offer what people want in order to get what you want’.  It’s insulting.  This is what Bloor did on Baltic Wharf; we were going to have community housing, allotments, properly affordable housing, gardens – hundreds of people got involved with the consultation, great plans were drawn up – planning permission was given but miraculously all that community housing disappeared along with the allotments and gardens and employment space and we are left with a mass rank of very expensive gated housing.  I understand that developers are only interested in their bottom line, of course they are, but for SHDC to play the same game is deeply disappointing.
SHDC car park development

The Lamb car park – a multi storey?

We could not have said that we don’t want to lose our car parks any clearer.  We’ve been saying it for years, we are still saying it.  We want SHDC to honour the agreement they made last year, when they took the housing out of the T3 area.  We would be very happy to come up with development plans of our own, even better do it in partnership with them.  That’s what the Neighbourhood Plan is for – the Neighbourhood Plan, the result of years of work and consultations, says very plainly that we don’t want housing in our central car parks.  It’s full of very clear recommendations about what type of houses we do want and where we want them.  It’s a statutory document, one that the government seems very keen on, why is SHDC so anxious for us to finish it, if they are already indicating that they will ignore it?

SHDC…asset heavy, but cash poor

SHDC has recently decided to borrow £60 million to invest in commercial property in the South Hams.  The decision on where and how to use this money has been passed to the asset managers.  I very much hope that this money isn’t used to smooth the way for developers to force onto communities, projects that they don’t want.  Instead wouldn’t it be wonderful If they decided to spend money on actually improving Totnes. why not spend it on things we want and need.  Council housing on Follaton anyone?  Improvements to our public realm, to our park, on our roads, on a new cycle path, improved schools, tackling homelessness, helping our elderly, not on forcing yet another mass development on our beleaguered town.  Why not invest in the long term future of Totnes and the other South Hams towns.  Why sell the family silver for whatever you can get when you could, with a different approach, secure the long term wealth and wellbeing of the places that you are responsible for looking after.  We recognise that S. Hams is in financial difficulty through no fault of their own and that they need a comprehensive funding stream in place, so how about asking us how they can work with us to achieve this.  Asking the community you serve is fundamental to a democracy – not the tick box exercise that operate now, but a proper, new, interesting, thoughtful approach to working with us.

Don’t treat your communities like problems to overcome, be a part of the solution.

South Hams District Council have responded with a video – see the comments link below for the facebook link.

Agree, disagree? comment below…

  12 comments for “Yet more development plans…

  1. colin luker
    9th Nov 2018 at 5:21 pm

    I certainly do not pay my council tax for a bunch of councillors who may think they are investment bankers to gamble by borrowing money – thought councils would have learnt their lesson the last time that was tried with the Iceland banking scandal. Hopefully your comment about housing on Follaton is a joke although it would not surprise me that some current councillors would think that was a great idea. Follaton is a great local open space facility that needs to be retained for future generations as a green space.

    • georgina allen
      9th Nov 2018 at 6:23 pm

      Hi Colin, totally agree with you – its insane for our councils to gamble with the huge amounts they are… I wasn’t joking about Follaton, but I meant on the side car park, not any of the green areas. Its long been contended that a good place for some social housing would be on part of the huge council car parks.

  2. Marcus Taylor
    10th Nov 2018 at 8:41 am

    Excellent piece Georgina. May I suggest some inclusion of factual sources where relevant and appropriate to enhance the argument (eg SHDC has recently decided to borrow £60m…..according to xx minutes/reuters/or even a named source). Without this Follaton can deny and it will help convince the undecided. If you ever need any primary research done let me know and I will see what I can do in limited spare time. Marcus

    • georgina allen
      13th Nov 2018 at 9:47 am

      Hi Marcus, yes very good idea. All the points I made can be found on the council’s own website eg. delegating decision making powers to the asset managers and borrowing the £60 million. I should have included it 🙂

  3. Zoe clough
    11th Nov 2018 at 5:37 pm

    Anybody think contacting our MP might be worthwhile…….? Just a thought. SHDC makes a mockery of all the work done on the local plans by so many people.

    • georgina allen
      13th Nov 2018 at 9:48 am

      Yes, good idea. I think its probably time to do that, yes 🙂

  4. Peter Shearn
    12th Nov 2018 at 9:17 am

    South Hams District Council have issued a video response to concerns about development in Totnes

  5. John
    12th Nov 2018 at 12:42 pm

    The backbone of Totnes’s economy is retail and tourism. The development of those two sectors is key to our town’s future and vibrancy. That needs more car parking and retail opportunities. Unfortunately there is so little space left for that to happen in our town centre that to give, sell or use any of that space to residential or office or *retirement homes (*the co-op site and car park) is about a bad an idea as can possibly be. Offices don’t have to been in town, when they are they take up car parking! Haven’t we already filled our quota of housing? If not does it have to be in the town centre? I am horrified that our Economic Development Officer is more for housing and offices in our limited retail space than supporting what this town needs to succeed economically. We don’t want to loose and then replace any parking, but to expand our key economic sectors within the very limited space we have in our town centre.

    • georgina allen
      13th Nov 2018 at 9:49 am

      Yes, I couldn’t agree more. Both the Neighbourhood Plan and the JLP took the central area out of development plans for that very reason

    • Simon
      20th Nov 2018 at 6:45 pm

      I agree that Totnes should not lose any of its current retail space and that sites such as the Brutus centre (exCo-Op/Budgens) should not get change of use to residential. Whether the town needs a growth in retail is more debatable as some existing traders struggle to survive. Existing town centre shops need more footfall and patronage and part of the problem here is car parking. The SHDC idea of decking Heath’s Nursery to compensate for building on another car park will simply increase the number of vehicles coming into the Town centre. In my view the far more attractive option is Park and Ride which is both visitor and town centre worker friendly. Such a facility could also offer charging for electric vehicles and motorhome facilities. With a little imagination it could also be a community based project putting funds back into local community transport.

  6. Marion KING
    13th Nov 2018 at 8:06 am

    Sounds like a classic case of mediation needed! There are so many vested interests and no clear options i.e. visual plans, being presented in consultation with the communities that SHDC represents

    • georgina allen
      13th Nov 2018 at 9:50 am

      This could well go to an ombudsman, yes

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