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South Hams District Council has said that the Community Right to Build Order on the former Dairy Crest site has expired.
South Hams District Council says it 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 latest update from SHDC means that the proposed development, which was approved by the Community Right to Build Order, cannot now go-ahead without a planning application.
The site has been part of a long-running saga since the Dairy Crest factory closed in June 2007, with the loss of 160 jobs. A group of local people who wanted to bring the site back to local ownership and use was created a month later.
There have been twists and turns during the following 15 years (follow the timeline of events here) but the most controversial to many was the January 2020 sale of the site by Saputo (Dairy) UK to Fastglobe (Mastics) Ltd just days before Totnes Community Development Society could exchange contracts in a sale many saw as a done deal.
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 Joint Local Plan 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 says it 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".
However, Totnes Community Development Society (TCDS) has released a statement saying they were "surprised" by the move from SHDC and are still determined to get Atmos built.
They said: "We were surprised to receive a letter from South Hams District Council’s solicitor at 5pm yesterday telling us that due to a legal challenge by the site's current owners, Fastglobe (Mastics) Ltd, they had concluded that the Made order, which was approved by SHDC in April 2017 following the referendum of the previous year, has expired. SHDC granted TCDS an extension in February 2020 in writing and we have been proceeding with our actions to re-secure the site for the scheme the community voted for, based on this. This extension was reconfirmed in a meeting with SHDC Officers in June 2021.
"We have been given no recourse ahead of the press release being issued by SHDC an hour after we received the letter and are now in the process of seeking further advice on our position. The community of Totnes voted overwhelmingly in the historic 2016 referendum for the Atmos Project to proceed, a groundbreaking scheme they had designed to meet their needs.
"TCDS worked in partnership with Dairy Crest until our agreement with Saputo, who bought Dairy Crest in February 2019 for £975m, was terminated on a technicality. Given the housing emergency the town, and indeed Devon and Cornwall, currently face, TCDS remains determined to pursue every possible avenue to getting Atmos built."
Photo © Noel Jenkins - the old Dairy Crest site in 2009
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