“Concrete proposals?”  Atmos Totnes respond with incredulity to Dairy Crest statement.

Last week, the Atmos Totnes campaign was launched, designed to get Dairy Crest to engage meaningfully with the community of Totnes over the future of their former milk processing site adjoining Totnes station.  Atmos Totnes patron and writer and broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby was joined by over 200 members of the Totnes community to declare that the site should be ‘the heart of a new economy’ for the town.

When asked by the Western Morning News for a response, Arthur Reeves, Dairy Crest Corporate Affairs Director, said that they had met with Atmos Totnes in the past, but that “no concrete proposals” had been put forward.  He was quoted as saying “we will consider all serious proposals, but at the same time we have to reach a conclusion which is acceptable to everyone who has an interest in our business.  That includes the Totnes community but also others as well”.

The Atmos campaign group have responded with incredulity to Mr Reeves’ statement, in particular the idea that no concrete proposals have been put forward.  They state that:

  • Within weeks of the site closing, they met with the then Property Manager with a view to renting the office block on the site, and submitted a detailed proposal which was ignored
  •  In March 2008, the Atmos group sent a proposed a Heads of Agreement for the community acquisition of the site, which was similarly ignored
  •  In November  2008, the Atmos group met with the then Dairy Crest Property Manager and with the Company Secretary and gave a full briefing on the plans and the design work for the Atmos project proposals for the site
  • In March 2009 the Atmos Group sent another proposed Heads of Agreement which was again ignored
  • In December 2010 the Atmos Group sent full details of their proposals for the site to Dairy Crest and requested a constructive dialogue. This was in part responded to but stalled when Dairy Crest made their Property Manager redundant
  • In March 2011, the Atmos group again met with Robin Miller, the company secretary, and gave him a full and detailed overview of their proposals for the site, and were told that the company was committed to establishing a value for the site, by submitting a planning application for the site, and getting a reassessment from the Environment Agency of the flood risk for the site, neither of which, a year later, have been progressed.
  •  In February, Arthur Reeves was sent a copy of the Atmos Totnes project brochure which sets out in detail the proposed scheme.

Rob Hopkins of the Atmos Totnes campaign says:

“We are concerned that when stating that ‘no concrete proposals’ have been submitted by Atmos, Mr Reeves is showing that he has not been properly briefed by his colleagues.  Over the past few years, we have regularly briefed a succession of Dairy Crest staff, most recently Company Secretary Robin Miller, on our well-developed, robust and highly-developed plans, which have a great deal of support from the local community.  If by ‘concrete proposals’ and ‘serious proposals’ Mr Reeves means offers of large sums of money for the site, by now he must have realised that in relation to this site, with its many planning constraints, restrictions, limitations and difficulties, that is not forthcoming.  The only way Dairy Crest will be able to unlock value from the site for its shareholders is through working with this community”.

Ed Vidler of Totnes Development Trust says “all we are seeking is a constructive dialogue with Dairy Crest.  We want to establish a mutually beneficial partnership with them.  We are puzzled as to why it is proving so difficult to get them to engage with us on this.  We would have thought, given that all their attempts to sell the site have stalled, and given their commitment to realising a value on the site, that they would be keen to speak with us rather than dismissing us as never having offered ‘concrete proposals’”.

In a hopeful development, Totnes MP Dr. Sarah Wollaston announced on Monday 19th March that “I have invited Dairy Crest to come to Totnes to meet with Atmos and hear about their very constructive proposals to enable the company to deliver a lasting legacy for the town and demonstrate a commitment to the principles of sustainability whilst at the same time preventing the further dereliction of this historic asset. Dairy Crest have accepted this invitation”.

The Atmos Totnes campaign, whose patrons are Dr. Sarah Wollaston MP and Jonathan Dimbleby, last week launched a website, www.atmostotnes.org, and will be hosting a major event in Totnes Civic Hall on Tuesday April 17th at 7.30pm which aims to tell the community more about the campaign and continue deepening its consultation with the community over the site’s future.  It remains hopeful of a constructive relationship with Dairy Crest.