There has been much in the treatment of this community by the Board and Senior Management of South Devon Rural Housing Association (SDRHA) that has been appalling and enraging over the past couple of years, much of it documented on this site. However, the headline of a statement/press release on their website posted on Friday takes the biscuit:
“Community Hopes Dashed as alternate Plan not Financially Viable”
Let’s get a few things clear before we get stuck into why this represents a huge slap across the cheek for the local community. SDRHA’s proposal for Brimhay is:
- Appallingly dull and ugly: at a recent meeting with the Directors of SDRHA, even they recognised it had no merits architecturally, they just want to get it built – Dartington Parish Council in its objections described it as “a standard “copy-and-paste” of many anonymous, bland, unimaginative development”.
- Undermining of the Neighbourhood Plan: the scale and appalling nature of this development makes a mockery of the whole concept of a Neighbourhood Plan
- Too tall: it is three storey in a village containing no three storey buildings, and will set a precedent for the increasing urbanisation of our village
- Destructive of wildlife: it considers a wildlife corridor to be disposable, including its bat and dormouse populations
- Oblivious to local opinion: this is a development which believes it has ticked the ‘Consultation’ box because it consulted 7 people. Any local feedback beyond that is deemed an irritant and to represent ” the circulation of incorrect information about SDRHA’s motives and rationale for the development”
- More car park than green: it turns a much-loved area of footpaths and green spaces, a green heart in our village, into a dense carpark.
Just as a reminder, according to SDRHA’s latest soft-focus rendering, which does nothing to reduce the scheme’s banal and insipid awfulness, it will look like this:
While SDRHA may dismiss these points as “the circulation of incorrect information about SDRHA’s motives and rationale for the development”, it is nothing of the sort. There’s nothing controversial about any of them, as evidenced by the over 200 people who have objected and only two local people who have come out in support of the scheme. Dartington Parish Council have objected, and even Dartington Hall Trust, who made the whole thing possible in the first place through selling its ransom strips, “welcomes the offer from SDRHA to consider appropriate alternatives or modification”.
Faced with this, and with Steve Prime’s intransigent approach to engaging with local people, a different approach was taken by local people. It draws on an expression originated by local Transition Towns pioneer Rob Hopkins, as a SWIMBY, (“Something Wonderful in My Back Yard”) approach, the opposite of NIMBY (‘Not In My Back Yard’). It’s an approach praised by Kevin McCloud MBE, presenter of Channel 4’s Grand Designs, who said, specifically about the community redesign of Brimhay:
“this kind of development, brought forward by a community, is exactly the kind of thing that we should be seeing more of. We hope this one goes the whole journey.”
Working with award-winning architect Bob Tomlinson, the community developed designs for a beautiful development which retained the green space in the centre, created beautiful timber framed homes, while also retaining the social housing elements. Let us remember at this point that SDRHA had 6 years to produce their appalling scheme, we had about 4 weeks.
To produce a fully costed plan takes time, and it also takes input from SDRHA, much of which was left to guesswork. But at the meeting where the work thus far was presented, SDRHA, in spite of being initially enthusiastic, decided it wasn’t viable. As they write in their press release:
“Although the criteria set by SDRHA for submission was not fully met, the Board were happy to see and listen to the alternate plan promoted by the group”.
How patronising. Here is a community group offering SDRHA many amazing things on a plate:
- An alternative to a planning decision that could leave its reputation in tatters
- The opportunity to get some good PR as a Housing Association that actually listens rather than steamrollering its developments through
- A far, far better development
- The opportunity to be part of a new story, a SWIMBY development that would be a nationally resonant story
- An increased chance of getting planning permission given the level of community support
- Potentially more money for them
Yet, SDRHA try, in this statement to blame the community for their decision not to do something different and to stick with their current dreadful plan! It’s a PR masterstroke. To say “Community Hopes Dashed as alternate Plan not Financially Viable” is a huge insult. It is clear that at this stage, SDRHA have decided the community has been too irritating thanks to its opposition, and it has become almost a point of principle among its directors, and for Steve Prime in particular, to steamroller the development through over the bodies of those opposing it. They write:
“It is unfortunate that community reaction to our plans has been so negative, but sometimes because of our desire to meet our affordable housing objectives, we may be at odds with some members of the local community. This has not been helped by the circulation of incorrect information about SDRHA’s motives and rationale for the development”.
It is not “unfortunate” that the community reaction has been so negative. When you consult just 7 people and show such disdain for local opinion, it is inevitable. SDRHA would have you believe that local opposition is just a fact of life, but we’re all incensed because we’ve been misinformed anyway. No, we are incensed because of this:
Which brings us to the point of this post. WE NEED TIME. We are all volunteers. People with families, with jobs, with dependent relatives and other commitments. SDRHA have a team of professionals, and it still took them 6 years to produce a development Stalin would have been proud to cut the ribbon on and declare open. It looks inevitable now that their application will be heard by South Hams on July 1st. Only they can pause it. WE NEED TIME.
Time would allow us to work with SDRHA to fill in the gaps, source the funding, find the future residents, crunch the numbers, in order to demonstrate that this alternative scheme stacks up. To create the national story of the community that not only demanded something better but then actually made it happen. Of course our scheme stacks up. It’s just not possible to do all that work in a month. No-one could do it.
So, for SDRHA to throw it back in our faces, to present themselves as having listened but that sadly our scheme didn’t stack up, and that we had wrongly raised local people’s hopes that something else could be possible, is insulting beyond words. Can you imagine then, how insulting it feels to be told:
” Community expectations had been raised by the prospect of such an ambitious alternate plan but unfortunately not enough consideration was given to the financial and other constraints of this project”.
It also raises, of course, the question as to whether their scheme is ‘financially viable’. Is it? Demonstrating financial viability isn’t a criteria that the planning process takes into consideration. So to dismiss our redesign through criteria we have no evidence that SDRHA have even established themselves is not good.
What we have offered SDRHA is a win/win/win outcome. Rather than dismiss what we have created in such a short period, they should be delighted, celebratory, thrilled that local people care enough to bother. We are offering something remarkable, if only they had the imagination to see it. What needs to happen now is for us to be given more time to add the details to our proposal. Freeze the application. Let us create something remarkable together, a national first. We can do this, but we need more time.