DBDUC’s concerns re. WYG, Simon Cronk & Tim Jones. Dartington respond.

In the interests of balance, and of you being able to make up your own mind on the issues DBDUC recently raised with Dartington Hall Trust, we here print in full Interim DHT CEO Karen Williams’ response to our letter which appeared in our last post.  While there is much here we disagree with, we are grateful for the thorough and thoughtful response.  

Dear Trudy,

Thank you for the statement you sent to Vaughan on 27th April, which I acknowledged last week.  I am really grateful to you for expressing both yours and Don’t Bury Dartington Under Concrete’s (DBDUC) concerns on these three specific issues.  I do understand that these issues have troubled you and can see how, given the recent past, you might want to raise these in this more formal way.

I would like to take this opportunity, as interim CEO, to reassure you that I, the leadership team and Trustees are committed to developing new ways of working with the community.  We want these new ways of working to reflect our values and build on the extensive knowledge and experiences of all our communities.  I know that we are all keen to adopt this change in approach and we are all looking forward to the opportunities that this will undoubtedly yield.  Now really is the time to seize the opportunity, build bridges and create something amazing together.

I am sure you will agree that we are already starting to put in place key components f these new ways of working – our Annual Members Meeting planned for July and The Place-Making Advisory Group are good examples of this.  However, given that significant change is needed, we do need time and space to shift our culture and style if we are to adapt and evolve.  I do understand that larger organisations can appear to move slowly as they adjust the many moving parts needed to create substantial change.  I therefore ask that you support us in this period by giving us time to work through the necessary steps.

With regard to the points in your statement about White Young Green, Simon Cronk and Tim Jones, we will always be prepared to listen to and examine legitimate concerns from members of the community about the policies, behaviours and actions of the Trust, including its staff and Trustees, and this situation is no exception.  On the specific points about individuals we would like to say that whilst we may understand the rationale for your concerns, as a Trust, we do not agree with them, and are deeply worried about your personalisation of issues.  We are uncomfortable that DBDUC has taken to targeting particular individuals within the Trust and holding them personally to account for past decisions.  We do need to say unequivocally that it is not for DBDUC or any other group to call for the removal of trustees or members of staff, as these are decisions for the trustees and executive to make in accordance with our own internal procedures.

We are not suggesting the we have always made the right decisions – indeed David Green acknowledged and apologised for some of the Trust’s past decisions in his letter of 4th February – but it is inaccurate and unfair to seek to blame past or present decisions solely on particular individuals or to assume that one or two individuals will dominate future direction and decision making.  This simply is not the case and does not reflect how decisions are made at The Trust.

On a personal level, I hope that as we work together with the community we can do so in a way that shows respect for the individuals in our community and their different backgrounds and views, even if we don’t agree with them.  I believe it is right that Dartington welcomes a range of views and opinions and can reassure you that no one voice has undue influence in our decision making.

On the first of your specific points regarding White Young Green (WYG) we would like to suggest that DBDUC and perhaps Rob Hopkins meet with us and WYG’s CEO Tim Holden, to discuss your concerns.  I believe this would provide us all with the opportunity to explore the issues you raise and jointly hear the answers.  I am sure Tim Holden would welcome the chance to meet with you and answer your questions.  If you are happy with this approach I will ask Charlotte Leach to organise this meeting.

With regard to your concerns about Tim Jones and Simon Cronk, you will appreciate that I have a duty to ensure that the Trust ensures its trustees and staff are treated with fairness and justice.  We have considered the information provided in your statement and the Chair of Trustees has discussed these directly with Tim Jones.  The Property Director equally has followed the same process with Simon Cronk.  In both cases we believe your concerns are unfounded.

I would also like to invite you to meet with the Place and Community Committee Trustee members when they next come together on 4th June.  The meeting will include Jo Williams, Steve Jones and Tim Jones, (unfortunately Sylvie Pierce, whom you recently met, will be abroad at that time) and should give you the opportunity to discuss freely with the Trustee Committee members any topics in advance of their meeting.

I hope that you will welcome the suggested approach in this letter and I look  forward to working with you and DBDUC over the coming months as we develop and put in place a more collaborative and open approach to working with our communities and place-making.

Best wishes

Karen Williams

Interim Chief Executive Officer.




DBDUC’s concerns re. WYG, Simon Cronk & Tim Jones. Dartington respond. — 3 Comments

  1. I note that DBDUC disagree with much in this reply, I would be grateful if you could set that out please, point by point, because I tend to agree with the letter above, that DBDUC is wrong to target individuals. Not only does any employer owe a duty of care to its employees, individuals are neither the cause of the disagreements, nor will removal or sanction of individuals solve the disagreements. The whole emphasis criticising individuals rather than pursuing democratic channels is misguided, and surely lets the down the whole community. Come on DBDC, you can do better than complain about this sort of stuff.

  2. Dear Peter.

    Thanks for your comment and your interest in this website. Actually, there is much in Dartington’s letter that we are fine with. We felt it important to post it in order to give both sides of the argument having posted ours. We would very much disagree with you though when you criticise us for “criticising individuals rather than pursuing democratic channels”. We wonder what democratic channels you are referring to?

    Which democratic channels were open to the people of this village when it was proposed that Sawmill Field be built over? A consultation in which the question “should we build here at all?” was naturally not considered. A land deal for that site made where the site was sold to Cavanna Homes rather than being put on the market because “it was considered that Cavanna would recognise the Trust’s principles”? Where were the democratic channels when DHT submitted 19 sites to SHDC’s ‘Our Plan’ process? Rather than passing through an impartial ‘democratic channel’, it was clear the planners were rather taken with the idea that such a lot of land around Dartington village meant their lives suddenly became a lot easier and they could see Dartington as a major “growth hub”, with no consultation with local people at all.

    If the “democratic channels” you are referring to is the planning system, then with Sawmill Field, the ‘Dartington Business Park’ currently under construction complete with pointless roundabout, the destruction of a community green corridor besides Lescaze to provide more car parking and so on and so on, it appears to us that those “democratic channels” have failed us very badly indeed. Indeed, with the National Planning Policy Framework and its presumption in favour of development, combined with planning departments now run by a skeleton staff due to austerity cuts, it could be argued that for local communities wanting to hold back awful developments, those channels are now pretty much a thing of the past.

    Late last year, DHT held a process to choose 3 new Trustees. Only the Trustees themselves voted. As a community we didn’t get to vote, nor to interview these people who could potentially have such a major influence on our quality of life as residents of this village. The more we have investigated what is happening around us in the village, and how it has happened, two names come up again and again and again, Tim Jones and Simon Cronk. Of course other staff and Trustees have had a role to play, and decisions are made by more than one or two people, but their fingerprints are across everything the village is currently being subjected to.

    All we wanted to do in our letter about Tim Jones was to do what DHT should have done, to share with local people what kind of experience and track record he brings to the post. And why, when over 50 presumably capable people, a number of whom we know had experience directly relevant to the kind of development so praised at the Future Homes conference, did they appoint someone who, as our research shows, brings only experience of the kind of rubbish currently being flung up in the village, as well as much that is far worse? While you may deem it “personal”, for us it feels entirely reasonable. Local people have a right to know this stuff.

    While you may be right that “sanction of individuals will not solve the disagreements”, if it is possible to recognise that Jones has clearly, as the former Chair of the Property Advisory Board for several years, been central to what is unfolding, then perhaps we can bring a focus onto one of the key influences on what has been happening. It is remarkable to us that in Karen Williams’ letter, the staggering conflict of interest in his bringing £700,000 of funding from the Local Enterprise Partnership (of which he was Chair) to Dartington (whose Property Advisory Board he was chairing), which we pointed out in our letter, goes unmentioned. Such concerns, along with the alarming way in which land sales were done behind closed doors, made possible because, as we understand, Jones signed them off from his position as a respected surveyor, are all dismissed with “in both cases we believe your concerns are unfounded”. This really isn’t good enough. Unless of course you believe such practice is acceptable, which we don’t.

    And the impacts, viscerally felt by many, of Jones and Cronk’s approach to development and distain for local opinion continue. We only have to wait another month or so to see whether our “democratic channels” will inflict upon us the eye-wateringly bad new Brimhay development in the face of fierce local opposition, enabled by DHT through land sales made after they had seen the proposed designs, and while they were supposedly building a new relationship to local people.

    If you watch X Factor, and you know Simon Cowell only likes singers who sound like Beyonce and Take That, then you know, pretty much, the kind of person who’s going to win at the end of the series. Likewise, our investigations show the kind of approach, philosophy and output of Tim Jones, something DHT was never going to share with us in the local community. When you understand that, and you then look at the appalling development to which we are being subjected, development conceived, planned, forced through and signed off when Jones was Chair of DHT’s Property Advisory Board, then it all makes a lot more sense.

    What for you is us getting too personal, is actually a community making sense of a great brutality, a violation, that has been foisted upon it, a travesty of “democratic channels”, and an abuse of power by Dartington Hall Trust. If this community had not rallied, protested, leafleted, surveyed, blogged, gone door-to-door, and pointed out repeatedly the vast gulf between DHT’s stated values and its actions, SHDC would still be looking at Dartington as a “growth hub”, and Sawmill Field would only be the beginning.

    The sad reality is that DHT has never, in its history, been a “democratic channel”, and is only now, as a result of our campaigning, starting to think about how it might become more like one. It’s a long overdue shift that we are delighted to see. It needs all the help it can get, and we are helping where we can, and engaging constructively where we can, but we also need to make sense of what has happened, and try to ensure it won’t happen again, which is why we posted what we did, and why DHT’s response feels to rather miss the point.

    We hope this helps and illuminates, and many thanks for your engaging with us so constructively.

  3. I surely do mean the planning system.

    DHT is a private charitable corporation that consults the community more widely than any other private landowner does. Nobody there holds public office, and in general it is not funded by the community as taxpayers. The individuals you so loudly criticise have not put themselves up for public office and are pursuing their duties for the Trust in good faith. Whilst you are quite entitled to negative opinions, I think it is totally unacceptable to deliberately stir up public mistrust in specific individuals within a private charity, people who have not put themselves forward in any way for ‘public life’. Such a tactic smacks of Stalinism, not social democracy.

    Contrast that situation with SHDC, funded almost entirely by taxpayers especially the local community, and with overall non-executive power in the hands of local elected representatives who have put themselves forward for public office specifically in order to mediate between private and community interests. Why are you not pursuing them? You simply state they’ve let you down, and you go for the Trust instead. Where are your lengthy diatribes about the SHDC planning department, their chief executive, or the elected representatives – all of whom have put themselves willingly into the public arena? Why this insatiable focus on people at the Trust, who have not?

    I vividly remember when your facebook page portrayed Trust management as a bunch of racketeering criminals and advocated completely ludicrous ideas like employing private detectives to ‘dig dirt’ on them, and when your official response to a legitimate Trust concern about physical intimidation of Trust employees was to publically muse that it might be Vaughan Lindsey making it up for PR reasons. (You lost a lot of support over that). At that point you clearly had an utterly warped view of who these people are, and how you should engage with them, and to be frank I’m amazed that Trust management even spoke to you after having those kinds of personal insults thrown at them. (It says a lot about them that they did). I worry that your continued focus on attacking private characters (and analysing every word) rather than engaging with the public democratic channels shows that you haven’t – how can I put this – ‘grown up’?

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