A SIX-month campaign has been launched to breathe new life back into the Dairy Crest site in the heart of Totnes.  The Totnes-based community group, Atmos, has spent the past five years working on sustainable plans for the eight-acre site.

Now frustrated by Dairy Crest’s reluctance to engage seriously with townspeople on the future of the land, a focused push is being made to show the depth of community support to get things moving.  About 300 supporters gathered at the derelict site on Thursday (March 15) to support ambitious proposals to transform the site into a mixed-use development, combining affordable housing, new businesses and open space for public events.

The Atmos group – a project of Transition Town Totnes and the Totnes Development Trust – would like to see the town’s community prepare a planning application for the site.  If successful, it could come under community ownership and developed as the catalyst for a new economy for the town, with Dairy Crest receiving a clawback on each phase of any development.  The vision would also see the listed Brunel building and land behind gifted back to the town.

Rob Hopkins of TTT said: What we are asking is that Dairy Crest stands by their corporate commitment of recognising that the company has a valuable role to play in the life of the local community.   We live in a time of localism, of communities now having a right to buy and also a right to try.

‘We are exercising those rights.  Dairy Crest have tried and failed to sell this site to developers.  We are where the passion, the ideas and the vision for the site are, and we represent the best way for Dairy Crest to be able to unlock any value from the site.  It’s time to make this happen.’

Both Totnes MP Dr Sarah Wollaston and the BBC’s Jonathan Dimbleby, who lives in the South Hams, have agreed to be patrons of the campaign.

Dr Wollaston said: ‘I see this as a real opportunity to show what can be achieved when communities act together to bring out the best from a development putting sustainable projects at the forefront.’

Jonathan Dimbleby said: ‘This site is a dilapidated eyesore at the moment but has the potential to enrich the town’s great cultural heritage.

‘It offers a form of sustainable development by the community for the community is a way that will enhance the lives of everyone.’

The site has been empty since Dairy Crest closed at the end of 2007 with the loss of more than 150 jobs.

The redevelopment 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.

Atmos would like to see the site developed to incorporate affordable housing, local food processing, brewing, baking, an incubator for new businesses, space for a wide range of enterprises, space for public events and much more.

Being next to the station, they say it would become a national icon for low carbon building, putting Totnes on the map as a centre of innovation and sustainability.

Ed Vidler of Totnes Development Trust said: ’The Dairy Crest site is virtually the only major development site left in Totnes not optioned to developers.

‘We think we can do something extraordinary there, something that is a catalyst for a new economy in this town, one based on community support, local food, incubation of new businesses and entrepreneurship.  Given the opportunity, this could be a national exemplar.’

The campaign called Atmos Totnes: the heart of a new economy has four key proposals:

  • That the now-listed historic Brunel building and the land behind it are gifted to the community of Totnes.
  • That the community of Totnes prepares a planning application for the site, rather than Dairy Crest or a developer.
  • That if that application is successful, Dairy Crest agree to a model whereby they get a ‘clawback’ on each phase of any development, rather than requiring purchase of the site up front.
  • That Dairy Crest makes the Brunel building sufficiently safe that a series of public events can be held in it by the end of the campaign.

The Atmos group’s work is supported by funding from Community Builders, and has had input from experts in the field of community-led development.

Members of the community are invited to post their visions for the site, as well as keep up with latest news and developments on the website www.atmostotnes.org

Users can also download a more detailed brochure outlining the group’s vision and proposals for the site.

[Article by Karen Perrow from the Totnes Times]