TOTNES’ Atmos project may be given the chance to temporarily secure the former Dairy Crest site while it proves the value of its innovative community vision.  Members are hoping to secure a lock-out agreement, which would see the derelict site taken off the market while negotiations are held solely with Atmos for a period of time.

It would allow them time to apply for planning permission and move forward ideas to develop the land as the heart of a new economy for Totnes, without the threat of other parties outbidding them.  More than 300 people have already endorsed plans to bring the eight-acre site – still owned by the milk giant – into community ownership with affordable housing, new businesses and open space for public events.

Now following a meeting with Dairy Crest bosses, campaigners believe they are ‘one step closer’ to plans becoming a reality.  Spokesman Rob Hopkins said the meeting had been described by both parties as ‘constructive’ and paved the way for Atmos to formally apply for an 18-month exclusivity agreement, which would go before the Dairy Crest board this summer.

‘It was clear that the campaign we have been running in the town for the past two months has had an impact, and that the weight of this community’s voice has been heard,’ he said.  ‘We are hugely grateful to everyone who has got behind it.  Atmos will be a game-changer for Totnes in so many ways.

‘Creating a good working relationship with Dairy Crest means we can start to change that site’s story from being one of dereliction and abandonment to one of innovation, vision and possibility.  We’re thrilled.’

The following statement was issued after the meeting, held in the Totnes offices of Totnes MP Dr Sarah Wollaston: ‘Today teams from Dairy Crest and Atmos Totnes met in Totnes to discuss the proposals of the Atmos group for the development of the former Dairy Crest site in Totnes.  It was a very constructive meeting which looked at all the options, and Atmos Totnes were invited to submit a proposal in the coming weeks which Dairy Crest will be treating very seriously.’

Dr Wollaston, who chaired the meeting, said afterwards: ‘When it comes to localism, as government Minister Greg Clarke put it recently in the House of Commons, “What Totnes does today, the rest of the country will do tomorrow”.  This national recognition may have helped to persuade executives from Dairy Crest that Transition Town Totnes has the determination and skill to lead the way when it comes to neighbourhood planning.  The meeting was an important step in demonstrating that Atmos is the best way forward not only for our town but for Dairy Crest if it is genuinely seeking to leave a positive legacy in Totnes and develop a reputation for nurturing sustainability.’

The Atmos Totnes campaign had found high profile support from, among others, broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby and former government minister John Gummer, who had recently stated: ‘I think Dairy Crest ought to think very carefully and see how it can best progress what is, after all, the one opportunity which is there for this site.’

Dave Chapman, who has been involved in the Atmos initiative since its very first meeting in 2007 when the site’s closure was announced, said: ‘It was wonderful to feel this initiative take such a positive step forward and to finally be taken seriously.

‘We can now start to show how the tools that localism gives communities can be used to create something that will put Totnes on the national map.  Now the real work begins.’

A spokesman for Dairy Crest said:  ‘We can confirm that two of our senior managers met with representatives of Atmos on May 4 to discuss the future of the site at Station Yard, Totnes.   We have invited Atmos to put forward a proposal for consideration but as we have made clear in previous statements this is only one option.  We are also consulting with other interested parties and are determined to fully consider all options to ensure that we choose the best solution for both the people of Totnes and our business.’

The spokesman also confirmed that it was replacing the temporary roof on the Brunel pumping house with a permanent one to help preserve the listed building.  Work is being carried out in compliance with the local conservation officer.