Over the next few years Dartington could be facing around 1000 new houses; 450 from Dartington Hall Trust, 500 plus from commercial developers including Persimmon Homes. Are local people to be asked whether they want their small village to turn into a town?
22nd February 2016 may not stick in your mind as a momentous date, or one that could dictate your future, for most of us it passed uneventfully. But for landowners in South Hams, 22nd February marked the deadline of South Hams District Councils ‘call for sites’- inviting them to propose land for development in the confusingly titled ‘Our Plan’- i.e. their plan for our area. In Dartington, landowners that we know- Dartington Hall Trust, and those we don’t- farmers and Persimmon Homes (who own land between KEVICC’s and Sawpit lane), made their bids.
Dartington Hall Trust, following its new enlightened model of open communication with local people, organised two open evenings in February to show locals the results of its ‘Placemaking’ workshops- whereby experts and local community representatives were involved in setting principles for any new development on Trust land. With its new friendly approach, principles such as ‘building an integrated rural community’ and ‘creating community innovation and growth of a new economy’ were embraced by almost all present. Focussing most new development around the Cider Press Centre and in pockets around the Higher Close area to enliven the estate were welcomed too- and the Trust stated that building was on their agenda plug its financial gaps and ensure its future.
Here at DBDUC, we applaud their principles that if developing land the Trust would build to high architectural and sustainable standards, would offer some small affordable and innovative homes as well as cutting edge architecture to attract high returns and aim to foster good communities. That’s the theory sorted. In practice we find ourselves increasingly uncomfortable that an assumption has been made that the Trust will need in the order of £40 million to stay afloat long term- an assumption that imagines that local people accept that they will have to pay the price with hundreds of houses.
Before Christmas we asked what DHT would do if, as ten years ago, there was a presumption against development on its land. What aspects of the Trust’s activities are close to its heart? What would be kept and what could be run by other agencies, volunteers, the community, or dropped? Sadly the question was never answered- perhaps because they felt they didn’t have to contemplate it. In a similar vein, land near Broom Park ( see http://www.dontburydartington.co.uk/statement-there-is-no-plan-b-but-plan-a-is-extraordinary/) and the other half of Sawmills Field has been left in their bid to South Hams; ‘insurance policies’ largely undiscussed at the otherwise excellent February open evenings.
And the numbers? Whilst the Abundant Life project to build specialist Over 55’s housing around Foxhole has been shelved, at least in its original incarnation, DHT now plans to build on the core estate, creating a new ‘village centre’ around the Cider Press Centre. They’re also exploring ideas for developing towards The Old Postern and maybe over the football and cricket pitches opposite Foxhole; in total the ‘new village’ area could mean 450 new houses. Are we all happy with that? Personally, if anyone is to make money from development, I’d rather it went to DHT than to line private developers’ pockets- but does keeping the Trust mean we turn our village into a town? No matter how well designed the developments- 450 houses mean up to 900 extra cars, and a need for shops, sports and health facilities… You see where this might be going…
Meanwhile, there are threats to our rural parish from unseen land grabbers. We know that Persimmon Developments has enough land to build 500 new houses; closing the green gap between Totnes and Dartington and it is likely that land around Cornwall Farmers could be put forward for building too. Closing the gap- making us one long suburb would seem a harder pill to swallow. Given that the 800 new houses built around Totnes have only housed one family from the local housing list, these commercial developments don’t promise to solve our local housing needs- just to boost shareholders profits.
That developers buy land and speculate to build was ever the case- but it seems that Dartington and Totnes have been highlighted as a growth hub. Strange? That’s another major policy that decisionmakers never asked local people about. Included in the Torbay, Plymouth and Exeter travel to work area (60 mile round commutes are seen as sustainable nowadays,) we may suffer the aspirations of our new commercially driven lords and masters; The Heart of South West. This quango that includes developers, road builders and proponents of Hinkley C, have an increasing say in strategic planning since South Hams Council voted for devolution of its powers. That happened on 10th February- another significant date slipped beneath our radar. Through our council tax we pay these decision makers to plan our places, but shouldn’t we have a say?
Meanwhile my appreciation goes to the local volunteers trying sensibly to voice locals’ opinions and wishes to develop just a reasonable share of new housing, in the areas around the village; using the legislation we have through our Neighbourhood Plan. And in the spirit of looking rationally at our place- at its value for community, landscape and wildlife and its carrying capacity for more houses and cars, I’m reminded of the very powerful Community Vote of No Confidence held in 2014. Then 387 local people said ‘NO’ to Dartington Hall Trust proposing up to 500 houses around Dartington. How do we all feel, a year later, to 450 from the Trust or 1000 in total? Time for us to have a say, or do we just add a ‘W’ to our name and live in Dartingtown? Let us know what you think.