Could this be a new model for communities across the UK faced with bland, clone-town developments?

Appalled by a grossly inappropriate and unpopular development, local people create their own, new and improved alternative

  • “We’re SWIMBYs (Something Wonderful In My Back Yard), not NIMBYs”
  • Could this be a new model for communities across the UK faced with bland, clone-town developments?

Unhappy with an unpopular development proposal? Design your own.

Faced with the redevelopment of 18 small social bungalows for the elderly sited around a much-loved green space adjoining a wild valley, locals in the village of Dartington, Devon have taken a novel tack. The developers, South Devon Rural Housing Association (SDRHA), facilitated by Dartington Hall Trust, are pushing ahead with unpopular plans to demolish the bungalows and replace them with a bland three-storey block of flats and an even larger, and even blander, block for adults with learning disabilities, as well as 12 open market houses. And all of this on 0.75 ha of land in the centre of a rural village.

Local residents are been increasingly horrified by a scheme that would cover over half the site in concrete and parking, greatly increase traffic through a quiet cul de sac and raze a wild stream valley and woodland, habitats of dormice and five species of bats. The development has been pushed forward on the grounds that it is needed in order to pay for just 12 new social flats (replacing the site’s current 18 social homes).

Despite many calls from the local Parish Council and local representatives and 250 local objections, SDRHA have failed to properly consult or engage with local people or make any meaningful changes to their plans. The large majority of the bungalows’ current tenants, whilst recognising that their homes needed updating, are appalled by the proposals.

“After an exasperating few months pursuing the usual campaigning strategies, we decided we could come up with something better”, explains local resident and campaigner Trudy Turrell. “Everyone in the village supports the need for social housing, but we were concerned that this scheme actually loses 6 local homes and forces people into small flats without gardens and, remarkably, no lifts. What’s more, we found that local people were passionate to save the communal green space and walking route through the village and cared deeply about the effects on local wildlife. And the traffic impacts of increasing the site’s population five-fold, on a site only accessible through a narrow cul-de-sac, will be horrendous”.

But Dartington is no ordinary village and its creative residents have come up with a suitably extraordinary response. It is one inspired by nearby Totnes, the world’s first Transition Town and Dartington Hall; whose founders designed Brimhay in the 1960w as a model for residential living; bringing its older residents in daily contact with the adjacent nursery school and others who walked through it.

With a very actively supported Neighbourhood Plan in progress, Brimhay neighbours looked for help; and found it from green urban designer, and House Builder of the Year 2008, Bob Tomlinson. Offering his services pro bono, Bob has been working with locals to come up with a design for timber framed, high spec eco homes in a far better arrangement around a green.

Unlike the SDRHA plan, which will go in front of the local planning committee sometime over the next couple of months, these assimilate smaller but far more beautiful social houses and a building for adults and carers all around a green; building an integrated community around its inhabitants, not around the car. The scheme also protects the wildlife of Brimhay and building around green space conserves the community garden feel for locals to walk through. “While what we’ve come up with might sound too good to be true, we’ve done the maths, and this scheme can wash its own face”, Turrell explains.

Now Brimhay’s neighbours are taking their new and improved plans for the site to the public, and hope to convince SDRHA to withdraw its deeply unpopular plans. “For us, it’s the spirit of Localism in action. What we’re proposing here is a positive solution, one that’s a win/win for people and the environment”, says Turrell. “We see ourselves as SWIMBYs (Something Wonderful In My Back Yard) rather than NIMBYs”.

The new proposals are generating interest and support both locally and nationally. Rob Hopkins, co-founder of Transition Town Totnes, says “this is a national first: a community coming up with an alternative proposal that is economically viable, more beautiful and sustainable, and which meets the needs of both residents and the surrounding community. It’s a brilliant and visionary response to development that is clearly inappropriate to its setting”.

For background see for details of the SDRHA plans, support from Jonathon Porritt, lack of consultation, parish council reasons for objection and latest SDRHA plans with even more concrete!



Could this be a new model for communities across the UK faced with bland, clone-town developments? — 3 Comments

  1. Forgive me, but I am completely mystified as to this entire campaign. Are not all these developments about which you complain subject to democratic processes via South Hams District Council? We have democratic channels through which various interests are balanced, and you seem to be scared to take them on, presumably because you know you’ve got a rather weak case. Answer me this: if your case to prevent development is so strong, why are you insulting and bullying individuals who are not involved in the democratic control of housing development, rather than lobbying those who are? I contend it is because you are bullies and cowards, contemptuous of the democratic process, picking on easy targets because you’re scared of squaring up to the big fish who hold the real power.

    • Dear Mr. Coleman

      Thank you for your comments. DBDUC is made up of many local people who live in Dartington, several of whom contribute to the website. If you are mystified as to what DBDUC are campaigning for we can only suggest that you read the website more carefully.

      The people of Dartington are most certainly engaging with South Hams District Council. Just recently over 250 local people wrote letters of objection concerning the development at Brimhay. Returned flyers supporting the community’s alternative plans for Brimhay are flooding in daily. We do not have a count of how many yet.

      No individuals are either insulted or bullied on this website. Facts are reported, issues and questions raised. If you would like to contact us again to tell us in which article or blog you think anyone is being bullied please feel free to do so. Your other comment has already been answered in detail.

      DBDUC is supported by hundreds of local people. In the recent ‘Vote of No Confidence’ in DHT property management organized by DBDUC, 387 local residents in a village of 800 homes voted that they had ‘No Confidence’ in DHT. In your response you contend that ‘you are bullies and cowards, contemptuous of the democratic process’ if ‘you’ refers to DBDUC what you are really saying is that hundreds of people living in Dartington are bullies and cowards. On reflection perhaps you might find that a less than sensible suggestion.

      • ok, perhaps I wrote that last post a little hurriedly, but I do believe that your approach to criticising individuals in private office is bullying, and the lack of action against individuals in public office is cowardly. And of course I don’t mean the community, I mean you guys (clearly talented campaigners) running the DBDUC site and leading negotiations.

        btw, I am aware you had to tone down your no-confidence vote to “no confidence that DHT had the best interests of the community at heart” (or similar), because your own research indicated that not enough people would have supported the original ‘no confidence in DHT’ motion. That didn’t stop your press releases – and your post above, and goodness knows what else – misrepresenting the community’s actual message as your own preferred version. Talented campaigning maybe, but unscrupulous? Yes. Dishonest? yes. Contemptuous of the community who you claim to represent? Undoubtedly. Sorry, but if you want to avoid that charge, you really need to be more careful about how you present the no-confidence motion.

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