After nearly two years of campaigning against the deeply unpopular redevelopment of Brimhay Bungalows, Dartington resident Liz Wilkinson, backed by campaign group Don’t Bury Dartington Under Concrete (DBDUC) and the local community, has won a victory of national importance. It’s a win that upholds a community’s right to open space – whether in public ownership or not.
The community of Dartington, near Totnes in Devon, are celebrating after a Judicial Review at the Royal Court of Justice in London at which Justice Hickinbottom ruled on Monday 25th July in favour of Liz Wilkinson and the community, quashing the planning permission granted by South Hams District Council (SHDC) in July 2015.
Planning consent had been granted to South Devon Rural Housing Association (SDRHA) in July 2015 to demolish the 18 small social bungalows set around a green, built by the Elmhirsts of Dartington as retirement housing for estate workers, and redevelop the .75 ha site with 12 houses for sale, a 3 storey block for people with learning disabilities and another of 12 flats to replace the individual bungalows with gardens for social tenants; most of whom are elderly or less able.
The scheme was vociferously opposed by hundreds of local objectors in this small rural village who saw it as cramped and urban in style; setting an unfortunate precedent for their rural parish, but most of all unjust to the social tenants, none of whom wanted to live in flats without a lift or gardens. At the Development Management Committee (DMC) meeting that approved planning permission, Cllr Rosemary Rowe dismissed such concerns by stating that for elderly residents, climbing three flights of stairs was “a great way of keeping fit”.
As the valley forms part of an important woodland and stream corridor (it is home to 5 species of bats and rare dormice), locals and the Parish Council were appalled that this was to be bulldozed to make way for houses and suburban gardens. Unusually, instead of just objecting, local people took what they called a ‘SWIMBY’ approach (‘Something Wonderful In My Back Yard). The creative locals of Dartington led by new local pressure group DBDUC, worked with an award winning eco-designer and builder, Bob Tomlinson of the Living Village Trust who designed an inspiring alternative scheme pro bono. Tomlinson’s scheme of timber framed houses and apartments constructed on site respects wildlife and people, offering an integrated community of social, assisted living units and open market houses set around a green, rather than the car park of SDRHA’s scheme, and managed to leave the wild valley wild, as a community nature reserve.
Over 200 locals wrote to SHDC to support the scheme as opposed to the 2 who chose SDRHA’s urban design. Yet on 1st July 2015, SHDC councillors voted to grant permission for the SDRHA scheme based upon the Planning Officer’s recommendation of approval.
Locals were angered by this approval, especially since they had tried for months to work with SDRHA and had a green alternative scheme so far advanced that planners had already had pre-application meetings and agreed that the scheme would probably be approved by them if submitted. Brimhay resident Liz Wilkinson, took on the fight on behalf of her community with legal aid plus massive fundraising efforts from local people, including a Promises Auction, a Community Curry Night and a crowdfunder.
In court, although the issues of ignoring European wildlife legislation designed to protect bats and dormice and applications to formally designate a right of way over the path used for over 60 years across Brimhay were debated, Justice Hickinbottom declared that in ignoring its own policies designed to safeguard public open space, and not making councillors aware that the development went against these, SHDC was in the wrong. He ruled that:
“…it cannot be said that the decision of the DMC would have been the same if the error had not been made … on all the evidence, I find that the members of the DMC were unfortunately misled and did not appreciate that such a breach was involved”.
Locals hope that now SDRHA and the council will have a long-overdue roundtable discussion on Brimhay’s future, and in the meantime Dartington Parish Council has submitted a planning application for the community supported scheme. Liz Wilkinson said:
“I’m delighted with the result and that Brimhay residents may now have a future they could all look forward to. The campaign has been a great demonstration of people power; from writing letters, to protesting at the council offices; organising an art auction, cooking curries for 200 and crowdfunding to support legal costs. I hope this inspires people everywhere”.
Speaking on behalf of DBDUC, Chair Trudy Turrell said:
“This decision gives hope to many other communities threatened by unimaginative, destructive development, and inspiration to others to redesign the futures they would like to see. There were times when opposing this awful development looked hopeless. We hope we’ve shown others faced with poor quality development that anything is possible, and that it’s vital we speak out. This is a victory for the whole community and the environment that we love”.
DBDUC would like to extend the community’s gratitude to Harry Campbell and Susan Ring, specialist lawyers from Harrison Grant Law in London and Barrister Annabel Graham Paul of Francis Taylor Buildings London, who put the case so well.