(From the Totnes Times, 16th February 2012)

Community campaigners fighting to develop the now-derelict Dairy Crest site in the heart of Totnes could be on the brink of a major breakthrough.   An eco-friendly consortium has spent almost four years putting together a ground-breaking live, work and play sustainable development scheme called the Atmos Project for the eight-acre site.  Now – just when things seem to have gone quiet – the project could be moving forward with groundbreaking potential.

Town council planning chairman Cllr Jill Tomalin said a recent meeting between Dairy Crest directors and Totnes MP Dr Sarah Wollaston had revealed that a buyer had not been found for the site, which is close to the railway station and river.  But she said early suggestions for the setting up of an industrial provident society, with community development links, may now be the way to go.  ‘This may well provide the template of how to approach the successful development of the site for the town,’ she told a meeting of the town council.

‘Clearly, as soon as possible it will go into the larger public domain, locally and also nationally, because it is potentially a groundbreaking project.’   Cllr Tomalin said: ‘People will remember that when the Dairy Crest site closed there was considerable effort put into the Atmos project.   ‘It has inevitably gone quiet in recent years, but that doesn’t mean to say that things haven’t been happening. The Atmos group has been functioning throughout that period and through Transition Town Totnes and the development trust an awful lot of work has been done, looking at issues around the Brunel building or the whole site.

‘It has been a long and tortuous and, so far, unproductive process.  ‘However, there is an enormous amount of work now taking place among the group that has been working on it and we may be shifting gear into a much larger project.’   Cllr Tomalin praised Dr Wollaston for supporting the Atmos project and highlighting the considerable community interest in the site.  ‘One of the Dairy Crest directors was not aware of the fact but became potentially very interested,’ she said.

‘I can’t tell you any more but a meeting is being set up to follow it up.’   The site has been empty since Dairy Crest closed at the end of 2007 with the loss of more than 150 jobs.   The redevelopment of the site has been made complicated by the fact that a large portion of the land is in a flood plain and the Brunel building in the middle – once part of the famous Victorian engineer’s atmospheric railway – is listed and cannot be demolished.  The Atmos team hope to develop a truly community project involving local share and bond issues.

Speaking later about a South Hams business partnership meeting, Cllr Tony Whitty said the town should welcome the fact that South Hams Council – although hampered by a lack of resources – had many means and opportunity to aid and support economic development.  ‘With the good news about Atmos, they should be there banging on the door encouraging that development to go ahead for the benefit of community in the town,’ he said.