DBDUC has had a recent exchange with Dartington Hall Trust which we feel it is right to put in the public arena. In this post you will see our letter to DHT Trustees, and in the next post we will share their reply to our concerns. In our letter we share some well-researched and well-founded concerns over some of the influences on the Trust which we fear could undermine the good work of recent months. In spite of DHT feeling this represents the “personalisation of issues”, our concerns remain, and we have struggled to know how to voice these concerns in any other way. We would welcome your thoughts on the concerns we raise here.
Statement from Don’t Bury Dartington Under Concrete to Dartington Hall Trust
DBDUC has serious concerns regarding the following. We urge you to consider the issues that we feel are impeding real and positive change within the Trust; its positive new direction and partnership with the community. We welcome your response and to working with you.
The appointment of WYG
Last October, at the Community Conversation that led to the formation of Don’t Bury Dartington Under Concrete, DHT was roundly lambasted for its hiring of WYG, a consultancy so at odds with the stated values of the Trust as to be almost unbelievable.
Might we remind you that WYG is a company that, among other things, advises Russian coal companies on how to exploit Siberian coal reserves as the Arctic ice retreats. They describe it as the “sustainable Taimur Coal Project”. There’s an oxymoron if we ever heard one.
They are committed to “making challenging concepts possible”, yet are completely at odds with DHT’s stated values around sustainability, resilience and so on. In response to the concerns that we raised, DHT wrote,
“We are grateful for people bringing to our attention their concerns about specific suppliers and, as a result, we will review and adjust our approach to procurement. We wish to work with partners from the community to help develop a procurement policy for Dartington that matches our purpose, vision and values”.
Elsewhere it was stated that this review of procurement policy would be completed by the end of 2014, but if it has been, we have not yet been made aware of it. Hiring WYG sends out a powerful signal that once again, recent professed changes in culture at DHT have not gone deep enough and remain superficial.
Why did you hire them? Why do we not yet have the promised procurement policy? Does it really take 7 months to write such a thing? If you want to show that you are serious about being a reformed organisation, end your contract with WYG. Given that we still don’t have any official statement about which sites are to be withdrawn, it would provide a much-needed signal that you are serious.
We have been asking, since September 2014, for the removal of Simon Cronk from your Property Team. We have many concerns about his commitment to ways of working that we had hoped DHT was now moving away from, and appears to be behind all the appalling development underway in the village at the moment. We strongly feel that nothing meaningful can change while he is employed at Dartington Hall Trust. He is deeply distrusted and disliked in the community. Do you not find it troubling that someone who clearly works for you, and is employed by you, doesn’t mention this fact anywhere on his LinkedIn profile?
On that profile, there is no mention that he works for Dartington Hall Trust, in spite of his clearly working at, and for, the Trust. DHT is not listed as his employer, which is given as Monk and Partners, a property development consultancy based in Plymouth. Monk and Partners describe him thus: “Responsible for planning and development consultancy, Simon has an extensive range of commercial development experience in both public and private sectors and has played a key role in delivering comprehensive mixed use regeneration schemes throughout the south west”. Do you not find that odd?
Tim Jones and the Placemaking and Community Committee
Vaughan recently asked why we had posted the first of a series of blog posts about DHT Trustee Tim Jones and what we had hoped to gain from it. In the end, after much thought, we decided not to post them, deciding instead, initially at least, to approach you directly about our deep concerns.
According to his profile on the website of the Devon and Cornwall Business Council Mr Jones is “extensively involved in Commercial Property Development across the South West Peninsula”. While there is much in his CV that is admirable and which we salute, there is also much that causes us at Don’t Bury Dartington a great deal of alarm, especially once we looked into the nature of his “commercial property development”. We wonder whether you are aware of his development background? It certainly gives us no confidence that he is really going to bring the kind of innovation that was so celebrated at the recent excellent ‘Future Homes Conference’, rather that he will undermine and resist it?
This is a crucial time for the Trust, and as you know we fully support the stated changes in direction. It matters deeply to us that in making such a move, it is supported on the inside by people who have demonstrated that they are innovative, and open to new thinking. We are so concerned by Tim Jones’ having been elected to the Board, and especially concerned by his being on the newly-formed Placemaking and Community Committee, that we felt compelled to write to you.
We can entirely see why he would have appealed to what we hope we can now safely refer to as “the old Dartington Hall Trust”, but for the ‘new’ DHT, the one now pledged to have “repositioned itself to go ‘back to its roots’ and refocus on working more closely with its communities and partners to achieve social change”, he represents a perspective that, we would argue, has no role to play, an anathema, a 20th century vision in what is trying desperately to become a 21st century organisation.
This was perhaps best captured in his comments to the BBC after Costa Coffee announced that they would not be opening an outlet in Totnes following the well-supported and skilful NoToCosta campaign:
“They (the community of Totnes) need to have a reality check on what this is telling the market place. If Totnes is going to grow and thrive it needs to embrace commercial development. It can’t throw these barriers up and isolate itself from the realities of the market place, however well-meaning that might be”.
As you know, Jones acted, between 2008 and late 2013 as the Chair of DHT’s Property Advisory Committee. His Chairmanship was, by any analysis, a disaster. Under his guidance, the only new development has been the widely disliked Sawmill Field while the estate has seen the boarding up of more and more buildings.
Upon closer investigation, it appears that Jones has been, perhaps, keener to “embrace commercial development” than local people may have been aware. In 2008 Dartington Hall Trust sold the option to develop Plantation field to Newton Abbot-based developers Millwood Homes.
To many of us locally, this looked at the time like a perfectly innocuous land deal. Yet to the best of our knowledge, the site was never put on the open market, the deal appears to have been struck behind closed doors. Judith Gannon, then working for DHT’s Property Department, negotiated the deal. Once the ink was dry on the paperwork and Millwood owned the option on the site, she left DHT and went to work … for Millwood Homes.
She also set up her own consultancy, Belstone Fox (Project Management Ltd) (a “specialist property service”, trading as ‘JE Gannon Ltd’). Tim Jones joined her as a Director (indeed, according to LinkedIn, as an “owner”), and also, at the same time, joined DHT’s Property Advisory Committee, as this screen grab from CompanyCheck shows.
The two are also on the board of Wessex Projects Limited, a company he formed and she later joined. Among other projects, Wessex is behind a development in Bideford in North Devon called ‘Atlantic Park‘ (Jones had also been on the board of ‘Atlantic Park (Bideford) Ltd’ since late 2003).
“A Facebook page ‘Help us to save our woodland in Bideford’ was set up to try to stop the development, and protests were held at the site an attempt to protect the wooded area. The group ‘Save Moreton Park Woods from McDonalds’ was also joined by over 1000 people. A petition with 480 signatures was also delivered, as well as 49 letters of objection”.
The development, and the felling of the woods, also inspired this rather poignant piece of graffiti on the site:
As well as the development itself, the planning consent Wessex was granted also, according to the North Devon Gazette, opened a lot of land around it up for further development:
“In December a consultation was held by Bloor Homes on plans for Winsford Park, a proposed 750-home development adjacent to Atlantic Park. In March this year, a planning application was submitted by Linden Homes for the Clovelly Road Park development, which lies opposite Atlantic Park”.
JE Gannon Ltd are also behind the Firepool Lock project in Taunton (see above), a development so awful that it was nominated for a Carbuncle Club award in 2012. The company is also behind a development called ‘Fusion Park’ in Yeovil, described as “the redevelopment of a former engineering works adjacent to the busy West Hendford, Lysander Road junction, to provide a family pub, coffee drive through and discount food store”. Listed among other projects are “development for a series of roadside uses in Devon and Somerset (KFC , McDonalds)”, “7 sites for Discount Foodstore developments”, “888 residential units currently in the Planning process” and, tacked rather sweetly on the end, “restoration of single cottage in Cornwall”.
Gannon’s philosophy that current government thinking on development is an invitation for a construction free-for-all with significant profits for those who seize the moment is best captured when she writes:
“In a challenging market and with a strong focus from National Policy on Economic Growth there is a very clear gap in the market for those who understand the how the development industry operates, the benefits it can bring and most importantly the relationship between Viability, Economic growth, existing and emerging Planning Policy. My aim is to bridge that gap and enable development which is viable to go ahead”.
This is the world of development in which Tim Jones’ expertise reside. In his letter to local residents on 4 February 2015, the one in which he apologised for DHT’s appalling behaviour of recent years in relation to its property dealings, in which Jones had played a key role, outgoing Chair of Trustees at DHT Sir David Green wrote:
“Despite recent tensions and concerns, we are heartened by how much local people care about the Trust and the estate, its charitable, artistic, social and environmental activities and its future as a vibrant and sustainable place. So, we look forward to collaborating with the community in more innovative, productive and successful ways in order to shape the future of both the estate and the village”
In our strong opinion, Tim Jones’ development portfolio represents the absolute opposite of “innovative, productive and successful ways in order to shape the future of both the estate and the village”. The new buildings being put up at Sawmill Field and on the industrial estate have his fingerprints all over them. As indeed does the hiring of WYG. We would passionately argue that he really has no role to play in this new direction and is, indeed, far more likely to undermine it.
He was also simultaneously on both the Heart of the South West LEP, and on DHT’s Property Board at the time when the Webbers’ Yard development received £700,000 in funding from the Regional Growth Fund, under the umbrella of the South West LEP. Does this not represent a conflict of interest?
We are also concerned about the role he played in the development of Sawmill Field. Minutes of a Development Forum held on 13 February 2013 by South Hams District Council to discuss that deeply unpopular development offer the interesting information that DHT “approached Cavanna about the development of the site after it was allocated”.
We would like to question whether, as a charity, such an approach is actually acceptable? Can a charitable Trust actually dispose of its land assets behind closed doors? Surely a charitable Trust has just two options when disposing of land:
- sell it in a way that generates the most revenue possible, or
- sell it in the way that best supports its charitable objectives?
This land deal, Plantation field, and, so far as we know, the sale of Foxhole to Sanctuary Homes, as well as, quite possibly, a number of others, did neither. According to the latest government advice to charities disposing of land, charities selling land or buildings have an obligation to “try to get the best deal for your charity”.
It also states that you must “advertise the sale or lease, unless the surveyor says otherwise”. Was public notice given on any of these land sales? When a deal is made behind closed doors, how is it possible to be sure that the “best deal” was reached? (although we would strongly argue it ought never to have been sold at all).
One question that arises in relation to Sawmill Field is “why Cavanna”? According to the minutes of the meeting, Jo Talling of DHT told the meeting that Cavanna was chosen by DHT (rather than the other way round) because “it was considered that Cavanna Homes would recognise the Trust’s principles”. Considered by whom? Via what process? This again looks to us rather like Tim Jones and Simon Cronk’s business networks and contacts coming into play. This was, of course, also at a time when the Trust’s ‘principles’, such as they were, bore no relation to what they actually did, a situation we very much hope is now changing.
This all happened while Tim Jones was at the helm of the Trust’s Property Advisory Committee. In many ways, much of the above ought not be a surprise. Jones is a business-as-usual man through and through. He is on record as being a keen supporter of Hinkley B nuclear power station (“an enormous business opportunity“), the south west Sainsburys distribution centre, and the Kingkerswell bypass).
What we have uncovered in looking into this man has raised what we feel to be many legitimate concerns. To move the Trust’s approach to property development and community engagement in the direction so roundly endorsed at the Future Homes event and set out in Vaughan and Liz’s recent letter to local residents needs a Board and a Placemaking and Community Committee who get this stuff. Someone whose experience of development is drive-thru McDonalds, deforestation, developments that are nominated for ‘Carbuncle of the Year’ awards and so on, is entirely the wrong person to be contributing to the future of the Trust.
We fail to understand what you believe he offers. We would like to very clearly request that Jones be removed from the Placemaking and Community Committee, and that his suitability to remain as a Trustee be reviewed. We have spent significant amount of time researching his activities, and have found no evidence whatsoever that he has anything of value to commit to the Trust at this difficult time, at least nothing that comes close to the potential damage he could do to the long overdue and desperately needed changes.