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 www.dontburydartington.co.uk 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!