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Atmos campaign group hits out at council for "seeking to frustrate" the community project

SA Updated
Atmos campaign group hits out at council for "seeking to frustrate" the community project

The Atmos for Totnes Campaign has said it is "shocked and disappointed to learn that, once again, Council Leader Judy Pearce, has acted unilaterally in seeking to frustrate the avenues Totnes Community Development Society can explore in its bid to secure the Atmos site for the community, in perpetuity". 

The statement came after a press release from South Hams District Council last night stated that "the Community Right to Build Order on the former Dairy Crest site has expired".

Read the previous story here

The Atmos for Totnes Campaign (ATC) group said: "We understand local members were not consulted or advised and no clarification from TCDS was sought about the status of its ongoing interest in the site."

They said that Cllr Judy Pearce, the council leader had a "preoccupation with the council’s power as the planning authority" which appeared to "blind her to the reality that over 4,500 Totnes residents co-created and voted for the Atmos scheme in the image of the town’s needs".

They said that "in enacting the Community Right to Build legislation and achieving planning permission, Totnes achieved something extraordinary – a people powered shift that put development in the hands of the community".

The ATC group said that "Councillor Judy Pearce’s statement reveals her true preoccupation, echoing recent comments she made on the Save Lock’s Hill Facebook group, [“By being successful in obtaining a community right to build they in fact chose to remove the local authority from the planning process, so why do they now want to try to draw us back in and why would we have reason to do this?”] that the Community Right to Build Order is an anomaly outside of the planning process.

"It also highlights how little interest the South Hams District Council Conservative administration has in seeing the Totnes community succeed in developing the Atmos site. The campaign finds Councillor Pearce’s lack of support for what is ostensibly one of the UK’s biggest and most successful stories about community involvement in the planning process - the democratic process involved in achieving the Community Right To Build made order – breathtaking.

"The Atmos for Totnes Campaign would like to highlight how out of step Councillor Pearce is with current thinking within the Conservative party. Over the last 10 years, national Government has promoted the transfer of increased agency to communities. Most recently the Right to Regenerate consultation, the Community Ownership Fund, the Community Housing Fund, and, even, how developments must account for local standards of beauty, have centred community agency as integral to how development is brought forwards.

"Further, the Government’s 'levelling up our communities agenda' sets out a vision for a renewed 'social covenant' where civil society and Government work together for common good with mutual responsibilities.

"The story of Totnes over the last 100 years and the story of Atmos over the last 10 is about how the transfer of wealth and power to communities seeds innovation, supports social value, promotes economic resilience and mutual support. This story shows what can happen when a community has the assets it requires to shape its contribution to society in the way that best responds to the needs and aspirations of that community.

"It’s a story of persistence and success, and, ultimately, a story of society’s confidence that Government’s aspiration for community agency is not only do-able but sustainable for the longer term.

"Yet this story - that speaks to the policies that seek to underpin the social fabric of communities - is at risk of becoming a cautionary tale that threatens to undermine the very agenda the Government itself is seeking to promote without the support of Councils on the ground.

"SHDC granted an extension to TCDS to February 2022. The Atmos for Totnes Campaign requests all South Hams District Councillors and Officers get behind Conservative policy and back the Community’s bid to uphold the Community Right to Build Order and secure the site for development as the community intended, and as the Community Right to Build order specifies, without delay."

SHDC's original statement in full is below. 

"South Hams District Council has now written to both the new owners of the former Dairy Crest site in Totnes, Fastglobe, and the Totnes Community Development Society, to tell them that the Community Right to Build Order approved in 2017, has now expired.

"This means that the proposed development, which was approved by the Community Right to Build Order, cannot now go-ahead without a planning application.

"In 2016 the Totnes Community Development Society submitted a draft Community Right to Build Order to South Hams District Council, to build a new community which included, 62 affordable homes, an energy centre and other facilities, on the Former Dairy Crest Site, known as Atmos.

"A referendum was held and the order came into force on the 1 March 2017.

"The planning order stated that the permitted development should begin within three years of the date of the order being approved.

"This meant that a physical start on site was required before midnight on the 29 February 2020, or the Order would expire.
Totnes Community Development Society, had hoped that submitting a reserve matters application for appearance, landscaping, layout and scale, would stop the order from expiring. However, South Hams District Council has now confirmed that this is not the case."

Cllr Judy Pearce, Leader of South Hams District Council Said: “To date no physical start on site has taken place. It is a real shame that this site has not come forward as a Community Development Site as was intended, and sadly this is beyond the Council’s control.

“Community Right to Build Orders are outside of the normal planning process and in this respect an order is very different to a planning application. A Community Development Order is approved by a referendum and not by a planning committee.

“Now the order has expired, a planning application for the site would have to be made to us as the planning authority. If this happens we would have to consider how any new application sought to deliver the aims of the JLP policy on the site”

“The expectation for the site in the adopted Joint Local Plan still supports a mixed use development on the site, including sensitive design, respect for the setting of heritage assets and habitat enhancement and address any constraints such as flooding or contamination."

"South Hams District Council is aware of the sensitivities and strength of feeling around the development of the site, and in addition to consulting with their in-house legal specialists, sought external legal advice before confirming that the order has now expired."

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User comments

1 comment
Community Build
Having seen ATMOS trailed as a champion of Community Build, I decided to review the Totnes story and found its sadly like many others. Small community loses its life line employer, their, site is seen as a community development site, up pops an adhoc group of sosay local enthusiasts, who have a desire to action local involvement in the Tory Public Services Act of 2012 ......... This is where we are lead to believe everyone's a builder in the community. Sounds great but it was a Tory Party gimice in the 2010 election and if it had been suggested by the Labour Party would have been hounded out as Communism.
So what have the noisy activist of ATMOS achieved, (as a much linked and valued example of localist participation), on other facebook sites ...... Well actually NOTHING ....... yes nothing in 10 years ........ except delay and suffocate other potential developers, (who actually have funds) from developing the old Dairy Crest site ..... Sadly many of these activist are well educated professionals in their own right. Often past Young Tories still tripping out on a notion that the Tory Party have a socialist face ........ Sadly as we are beginning to find out, this £40 million fund and other schemes like it, are being spent on other hidden Tory agenda's dressed up as community projects ......... yes and we have some of this dreamy local activism in Gloucestershire, where they are trying to stall a £4 million housing development and a £10 million lottery funded stage restoration of the Thames and Severn Canal ....... My advice the the people's of Totnes, is to ditch the vitriolic varnish from ATMOS, and go with the real developers who would have built a wonderful new housing development in Totnes 8 years ago ...... Pseudo Community Localism is a Tory mythe, like most of the gimmicks they have shop windowed since 2010 ....... Capitalist on the other hand are easy to understand .......... They fund a project, and if you want some, you buy your way in or have exemptions funded by the local council ......... ATMOS have had their chance, and no doubt most of the free speech and local publicity ....... It's time to turn off their chatter and get on with "Building Back Better", with organisations that are funded and experienced ....... best of luck Totnes......
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