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.
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.