It is important to set out the Timeline of what actually happened up until now in the Atmos Totnes story. So here is the story from the start.

June 2007. Closure of the Dairy Crest site, formerly Unigate, is announced in June 2007, with the loss of over 160 jobs. It is a body blow to the town, the closure of the last big employer in the town. “How much more can this town take?” asks Totnes Times, adding “The end of an era – ‘it’s quiet in there'”.

The site’s social club had been built, in a great act of community solidarity, with contributions from workers’ pay packets over many years, was once home to 15 skittles teams. It closed too. The town lost much more than just jobs.

July 2007: The ‘Sustainable Business Park Group’, local residents interested in the idea of bringing the Dairy Crest site into community ownership, meet with South Hams District Council re exploring routes to making that happen. They decide the community needs to drive this forward.

August 2007: Concerned that Dairy Crest Group Plc intend to demolish Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Atmospheric Pumping Station and Engine House, known locally as the Brunel Building, Totnes Town Council leads a bid to English Heritage to have the building listed.

September 2007: The final shift is worked at the Dairy Crest factory as it closes for good. Brian Edgcombe appears on the front of the Totnes Times with the headline ‘Final hours at the Dairy’. “It’s the end of an era” he says.

November 2007: English Heritage announce its decision to refuse to list the Brunel Building, on the grounds that “… despite having historical interest through its association with the unfinished and unsuccessful South Devon Atmospheric Railway, the building has experienced considerable alteration since it was first erected [and this] has compromised the integrity of the building and thus much of its context as an industrial building”.

Dairy Crest begin removing the roof from the Brunel building.

February 2008: An appeal against English Heritage’s decision is unsuccessful. Dairy Crest begins removing the roof of the Brunel building. A community campaign, supported by Save Britain’s Heritage, begins to get it listed. Then-Mayor Pru Boswell says she would ‘lie down in front of the bulldozers’.

Jeremy Clarkson writes “Dairy Crest is a jolly big and important company, I’m sure. But its chilled products will never worm their way into the fabric of Britain quite like Isambard Kingdom Brunel did. I urge them therefore to think again”.

Shadow Arts Minister Ed Vaizey MP writes “this is a shocking act of cultural vandalism. This is one of just three unique pumping stations, built by the country’s greatest engineer, and it should be listed and preserved”

October 2007: Meetings are held to consider the possibility of Devon County Council purchasing the Dairy Crest site. “Purchase would stop developers from acquiring the site, enabling it to be used for job creation”.

March 2008: As a result of the campaign, English Heritage reverse their decision and the building receives a Grade II Listing status. The campaign for the site’s future gets its first taste of people power. They write that the building “has been listed at Grade II in recognition of its historic interest as part of Brunel’s South Devon atmospheric railway”.

March 2008: By now, ‘the Atmos Project’ has come into existence; named because of the connection with Brunel’s Atmospheric Railway and in recognition of the need to mitigate against climate change.

May 2008. The Atmos Totnes group meet with then-Totnes MP Anthony Steen to brief him on their plans. He expresses his support for the scheme.

July 2008: South Hams District Councillor Julian Brazil tells the Herald Express “we need to speed up the process of redeveloping the Dairy Crest site as quickly as possible. If necessary, use a compulsory purchase order to buy the site. Totnes needs it now. The worst thing that could happen is that it remains derelict for the next 10 years”.

July 2008: Dairy Crest state “we are still in the process of evaluating the best option for the site at Station Yard, Totnes. No decisions have yet been taken as to whether this will involve disposal or development”.

July 2009: The Atmos group, now a group of committed volunteers from across different groups in the town, complete a detailed prospectus of their proposals, ‘A Masterplan for the Dairy Crest site’ (see right). It is widely distributed.

February 2011: South Hams District Council’s ‘Totnes Site Allocation Development Plan Document‘, states any development on the site must replace the job numbers lost, and a mix of housing, employment, improvements to the riverside environment and public access.

February 2012: Totnes MP Dr Sarah Wollaston meets with Dairy Crest management to discover why there has been no progress thus far on the site, and argues for Atmos to be a central part of whatever happens there. They tell her they want to “leave a legacy” in Totnes.

March 2012: Broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby joins hundreds of members of the community outside the Dairy Crest site gates calling for the community to be taken seriously and for Atmos to be the site’s future. He says “We’ve moved, or we should have moved, through that era where corporations come in and say ‘we can use this to our advantage’ … here we have the opportunity to say ‘we want to do it our way’. I’ve looked at the Atmos plans, and they are very exciting. Here is a fantastic chance to say we can make this place serve us, our needs, be profitable, part of a social enterprise to everyone’s benefit”.

April 2012: With the advent of Localism in 2011, and the opportunity to use a Community Right to Build coming into force in April 2012 further discussions with Dairy Crest take place and Atmos seek to formally undertake the masterplanning for the site and bring the site forward.

April 2012: BBC quote Rob Hopkins from the Atmos team: “We imagine it could be a place where new enterprises are cultivated, renewable energy is generated, public events take place and businesses grow. It’s a gateway to Totnes, just falling to bits.”

April 2012: A public meeting is called in Totnes to share progress so far on the Atmos project and to invite community support and participation. The Civic Hall is packed and there is great enthusiasm for the project.

May 2012: Sarah Wollaston hosts a meeting with representatives of Dairy Crest and TCDS (see photo below). Dairy Crest say they wish to leave a legacy in Totnes and recognise Atmos is the way forward and that they need to find ways to work with the Atmos team.

June 2012: The Atmos team meet with Dairy Crest to review the feasibility work the Atmos team have already completed. The outcome is that Dairy Crest agree to review seriously the plans and to come back to the Atmos team with how they want to move forward.

July 2012: Atmos announce Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project and Kevin McCloud of Grand Designs as Patrons. McCloud says “There’s nothing more exciting than seeing people taking control for where they live. Atmos speaks volumes for where the whole nation, indeed where as a society, we could go”.

July 2012: The Atmos project team form ‘Totnes Community Development Society’. The Society, registered as an Industrial and Provident Society for the Benefit of the Community, is the legal entity which is taking forward the Atmos project.

TV chef and campaigner Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall joins hundreds of Atmos Totnes campaigners in front of the site gates, everyone bringing something that, for them, represents what they would like to see on the final site. “The thing I’m most excited about is coming back here to see the incredible changes that are going to happen in this space”. He says “what I like about Totnes is there’s no limits to its ambition. Something like this comes up and it says “we can do something with that because we know what spirit we have, so let’s make it happen”.

April 2013: A Heads of Terms with Dairy Crest is agreed that provides the opportunity for Totnes Community Development Society (TCDS) to undertake the masterplanning, acquire the site and move forward to develop it out.

June 2013: Heads of Terms between TCDS and Dairy Crest are signed (see photo below). They set out how TCDS will lead the creation of the masterplan for the site, with a view to obtaining planning consents through the use of a Community Right to Build Order, a power granted to communities in the 2011 Localism Act.

August 2013: Dairy Crest issue a press release stating they are “in the final stages of negotiation with TCDS” and that “we feel that the Atmos project represents the best way forward for the site and will help us to achieve a real legacy for the town of Totnes.”

August 2014: Legal agreements signed by TCDS, McCarthy & Stone and Dairy Crest for the sale of the site and include a cooperation agreement between the lead developer (TCDS) and McCarthy & Stone as project partner.

August 2014: TCDS take a licence to occupy the Atmos Hub building (formerly the Dairy Crest Group Plc Station Road Offices) from Dairy Crest Group Plc.

September 2014: For the first time in 7 years, the site’s gates are opened to the public and an announcement is read out about the deal made between Dairy Crest, McCarthy & Stone and TCDS. It is announced that as part of the agreement TCDS are to take on the footprint around the Brunel Building and the building itself for one Totnes Pound (the town’s local currency at the time). The gate-opening event is captured in this film.

October 2014: A public meeting is held to announce and kick off the public consultation period. It is a very well-attended evening, with a lot of ideas and energy for the process to come.

October 2014: The public consultation begins. What was it like to visit the Atmos Hub when the consultation was going on? In this podcast, its creator, Ruth Ben Tovim, takes you on a walk around the space to introduce you to the different activities underway.

October – December 2014: The Atmos Hub opens (Friday and Saturday each week evenings and mornings respectively), over 1,250 people come to visit and give their views and ideas. The consultation, co-ordinated by Ruth Ben Tovim and her team, begins with a blank slate: “What would happen here?” The ideas begin to flow…

September – December 2014: “Some came with collage, others with scale drawings. Some came to tell stories and some came back to the offices where they had been paid their redundancy and in so doing started a process of healing”.

November 2014: Totnes Times reports : “Totnes residents have been turning out in their hundreds to help the town put together a vision for the future development of the eight-acre Dairy Crest site”.

November 2014: Here is a beautiful podcast compiled from interviews done with people in the Atmos Totnes Hub, capturing how people responded to the first round of consultation. “Extraordinary: I wasn’t expecting this”.

November 2014: Totnes Times reports that a tunnel that runs under the railway line has been discovered which “could end up being used as a unique pedestrian link with a developed Dairy Crest site”.

December 2014: Totnes MP Sarah Wollaston visits the Atmos Totnes consultation at the Atmos Hub and expresses her delight at what she sees.

November – December 2014: Pre-application advice is sought from all the agencies, including South Hams District Council, Natural England, the Environment Agency, Devon County Council and Network Rail.

December 2014: The common themes emerging from the first six weeks of consultation are that the community aspire and want to see jobs, and housing, being developed as urgently as possible. The first round of consultation closes with a packed day at the Hub.

January 2015: Over two weekends, twenty community volunteers, our ‘Atmos Ambassadors’ come together as our ‘Community Design Team’. They digest the material from the consultation, walk the town, and explore design ideas. Incredible days, captured here:

They use Christopher Alexander’s seminal book ‘A Pattern Language‘ to underpin their design ideas for a site in which life, community and culture can flourish, supported by our architect, Andrew Kirby. They are all working not on their own behalf, but on behalf of the wellbeing and needs of their community. Ordinary people can’t design sites? Nonsense. They were incredible.

The Community Design Team onsite.

January 2015: Following the Community Design Team’s hard work, early concept plans are prepared by our architects which are then put out for a weekend of feedback and consultation

March 2015: Leases are put in place between Dairy Crest and TCDS for the whole of the site so that TCDS are able to manage investigation work and undertake site safety.

April 2015: You might have thought that by now, the inputs of 1000s of people would make it difficult to establish clarity on what the town wanted, but the key principles came through very clearly. You will find them listed here.

May 2015: As the plans for the site become more developed, the Hub opens again for the public to comment on work in progress and to give their feedback on how it’s shaping up. At this point over 2000 people have already contributed their ideas.

March – October 2015: Our design team are given a brief consisting of the initial known constraints, investigations and community consultation and asked to work together to present the best solutions to meet the community need.

July 2015: We introduce some of our Design Team in a series of short videos. Here are Andrew Kirby of LED Architects, the architect of the Atmos scheme, and our Ecologist, Jenni Reid:

July 2015: An event is held at the Seven Stars Ballroom called ‘Atmos Totnes: Open For Business’ to invite expressions of interest from businesses wanting to set up on the Atmos site. At ‘Open for Business’ event, it is made clear that this is not just a business park, but that tenants will be expected to work collaboratively with others working and living on site to maximise the economic and social benefits for everyone.

July 2015: The emerging masterplan is put out for additional consultation. This beautiful podcast captures the voices of many of the people who visited our July consultation: “As a creative arts project it’s really impressive” – “It’s just fantastic”.

October 2015: Dairy Crest and McCarthy and Stone sign off Regulation 14 Consultation Community Right to Build Order documentation.

November 2015: Regulation 14 Consultation (the first formal consultation required under the Neighbourhood Planning Regulations 2012) commences on 2 November 2015 and runs till 20th December 2015. Volunteers staff the Atmos Hub for every day of the week for the nearly seven weeks answering questions about the design. Statutory agencies also provide their official response to the Regulation 14 draft Community Right to Build Order.

December 2015: An independent examiner is commissioned to undertake a Health Check on the Regulation 14 Order. There was a common response from statutory agencies and the community that the McCarthy & Stone buildings near the station were too high, particularly in relation to the Brunel building on the site. A design review enables a logical switch of buildings and a swift revision of infrastructure.

January 2016: McCarthy & Stone and Dairy Crest approve the revised Masterplan and specifically the change in location of the retirement housing based on community and statutory agency feedback. To show the community, the outcome of the Regulation 14 Consultation and the revisions to the Order an information session was held on Saturday 23rd January 2016.

January 2016 Submission of the draft Community Right to Build Order is made on 29th January 2016.

April 2016: Regulation 16 Consultation (the Local Authority six-week consultation required under the Neighbourhood Planning Regulations 2012) runs from 24th February to 8th April 2016. South Hams District Council do not require any changes to the draft Order submitted as a response to Regulation 16 Consultation.

April 2016: TCDS commissions Jones Lang Lasalle to undertake the valuation of the masterplan taking out the land redlined for the McCarthy and Stone development on the North site and the land redlined in the existing contract on the South site.

May 2016: Totnes Community Development Society (TCDS), is shortlisted for a Social Investment Award run by the Cabinet Office in partnership with Nat West

June 2016: South Hams District Council confirm that they consider the Community Right to Build Order meets the Basic Conditions; that the Order is compliant and in accordance with planning regulations both locally and nationally amongst other requirements.

October 2016: South Hams District Council announce a date for the referendum for Atmos Totnes – Wednesday 23 November 2016. In the run-up to the referendum, TCDS doesn’t campaign for a Yes vote, rather just makes sure people have all the information they need.

October 2016: Our incredible team of Atmos Ambassadors go door to door in Totnes, delivering information and answering any questions people might have. Here is Ambassador Lu Overy to tell you more:

October 2016: Here are Jo and Claire, two of our wonderful Atmos Ambassadors, explaining, shortly before the referendum, the design of the site, and the different elements that make up the Atmos scheme:

October 2016: In this promotional video, in the run-up to the referendum on November 23rd, Atmos Ambassador Bethan explains what the polling cards dropping through peoples’ letterboxes are all about:

November 2016: Totnes goes to the polls, to cast their vote on whether or not the Community Right to Build Order for Atmos Totnes should be given planning permission. On November 24 2016, the results of the Atmos Totnes Community Right to Build Order referendum are announced. Votes cast in favour (‘yes’ votes): 85.69%. Votes cast not in favour (‘no’ votes): 14.31%. Turn out: 30.64%. The scheme can now proceed, pending final approval by South Hams Council.

November 2016: It’s worth putting the referendum result in context. It means this community went from signing an agreement with Dairy Crest, to a full planning consent, on a very complex site, in just over two years, something most developers struggle to do.

December 2016: Totnes Community Development Society ask Dairy Crest Group Plc if they have asked Eversheds to start to draft revised contracts for the sale of the site.

February 2017: South Hams District Council ‘Make’ the Atmos Totnes Community Right to Build Order (formally approve it). The Made Order provides for:

  • 62 affordable houses (held affordable in perpetuity)
  • 37 houses for those aged over 55
  • 7,051 square metres of workspace
  • A 58-bed hotel
  • An energy centre
  • A community venue
  • Youth provision
  • Health facilities
  • Vital flood relief protection for the whole town

March 2017: Dairy Crest advise TCDS that they have shared a Heads of Terms with McCarthy and Stone regarding the new contracts for sale of the site but have yet to hear from them.

April 2017: Dairy Crest confirm that they are still seeking the involvement of McCarthy and Stone through a new Heads of Terms despite no confirmation from McCarthy and Stone that they wish to move to new legal agreements.

May 2017: TCDS meet with Dairy Crest and McCarthy and Stone with all parties’ lawyers present to discuss the proposed new contractual arrangements for the sale of the site. Agreement to move forward is reached that TCDS will buy the entire site from Dairy Crest and deal directly with McCarthy and Stone in its purchase of a portion of the North site.

July 2017: TCDS advise Dairy Crest that the Society can begin to enforce the original Agreement for Sale (as signed by both parties in 2014) and exercise the associated option agreement. The view of Directors is that this is a route that should be pursued unless there is movement on the new legal agreements.

July 2017: Dairy Crest Company Secretary advises TCDS that they sent “the heads of terms to McCarthy Stone’s lawyers quite some time ago” and that they will continue to chase and that requests that the Society ‘in the meantime bear with us.”

October 2017: Dairy Crest confirm to Network Rail that Totnes Community Development Society is working with Dairy Crest Group Plc to develop the site.

January 2018: Dairy Crest confirm that they are still seeking to establish new legal agreements for the sale of the site, noting that they are now unsure of the position of McCarthy and Stone.

July 2018: TCDS advise Dairy Crest that as a consequence of the on-going lack of clarity and uncertainty of the position of McCarthy and Stone the main phases of the project (site purchase, enabling works and construction phase) have been reviewed and that the Society is continuing to undertake further elements of post planning pre-development work required to move the project forward. Dairy Crest and TCDS agree to move to revised legal agreement for the sale of the whole site to TCDS.

July 2018: McCarthy and Stone issue a statement on 4 July 2018 stating that they are withdrawing from the project.

September 2018: Dairy Crest advise that they have instructed their solicitors to move to draft revised agreements between themselves and TCDS.

September 2018: Robin Miller who has overseen the discussions with Atmos Totnes since the outset leaves Dairy Crest and Tom Atherton takes over as our main contact

March 2019 The Plymouth and South West Devon Joint Local Plan is adopted by South Hams District Council on 21 March 2019. This sets out that development of the former Dairy Crest site must be in accordance with the provisions in the Community Right to Build Order (CRtBO), including appropriate flood risk mitigation measures (including improvements to the leat to protect existing development downstream), remediation of contaminated land and habitat enhancement; with sensitive and high quality design which integrates with the existing area and the setting of nearby heritage assets.

April 2019: Dairy Crest Group Plc is bought by Canadian milk giant Saputo (Diary) Ltd.

April 2019: TCDS and Dairy Crest Group Plc jointly commission Jones Lang Lasalle (JLL) to undertake a whole site valuation to determine the land value for the site and the value of the contract for sale of the site, as set out in the 2014 agreement.

June 2019: JLL present their evaluation of the site, indicating that the site as a whole, with the planning consent as granted in the Community Right to Build Order, and the site’s many constraints, has a value in the range of £460,000.

June 2019: Investigative work on the Brunel Building is completed and the Conservation Management Plan is prepared and the application for Listed Building Consent is approved by SHDC on 24 June 2019. The work up to this point has been funded by a National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) pre-development grant. Everything is now in place for work to begin to restore the Brunel building into a music, arts and community venue, awaiting a decision from the NLHF.

September 2019: Saputo (Dairy) UK board confirm that they are happy to sell the site to TCDS for £460,000 with an ‘overage’ (money to follow later upon development) on the land area set aside for the retirement housing. Saputo (Dairy) UK instruct their solicitors (Eversheds) to draw up the agreement.

October 2019: On October 14th, Patrick Gillies asks to visit the site, saying he has been asked by Saputo to give them his opinion on the site. Tom Atherton confirms this is the case via a phone call with Dave Chapman. He says he already has the JLL valuation, and on October 16th is emailed the gate codes and a Health and Safety pack.

November 2019: Tom Atherton at Saputo advises that he is prepared to accept £460,000 from TCDS with an overage clause relating to any additional value created by the older persons housing. TCDS are unhappy with the initial version of the overage agreement as proposed by Saputo, and so discussions begin between legal teams to create a version everyone is happy with.

November 2019: Saputo (Dairy) UK state that they are considering another offer for the residential part of the site. TCDS warn that they will seek legal advice and recompense if Saputo do not honour the agreements with TCDS particularly as it has been their delay in dealing with the withdrawal of McCarthy and Stone.

November 2019: TCDS propose that the exchange takes place as soon as practically possible. The preparation of a permitting schedule within the wider strategy to mitigate the flood risk and risk of contamination from surface water during demolition and construction is completed and agreed with the Environment Agency.

November 2019: Two of nine permits and licences required under Flood Risk Management and Surface Water Drainage Development Strategy are applied for – the Bat House and the groundwork investigation. Both applications are approved by the Environment Agency in February 2020.

December 2019: Natural England grant a European Protected Species Licence to TCDS for mitigation works in relation to the bats on the site.

December 2019: The Overage Agreement is agreed by both Saputo (Dairy) UK and Totnes Community Development Society on 23 December 2019. Their solicitor writes “we have taken instruction from our client and your proposal is agreed in principle”. The draft overage agreement is issued, and the agreed purchase price is £460,000. The overage agreement will be in place for 20 years and will apply to the retirement housing element of the scheme.

December 2019: Capital funding of £2,576,400 is approved by the National Heritage Lottery Fund for the refurbishment and development of the Brunel Building in December 2019 but notification of the award is not made public due to standard Lottery terms and conditions until the early part of 2020.

Artists impression of the inside of the Brunel building.

January 2020: On 13 January 2020, after weeks of exchanges between solicitors finalising the contract of sale of the site to TCDS, TCDS write to confirm it is ready to exchange contracts.

January 2020: On the morning of 17 January, Dave Chapman of TCDS is told, in a conversation with Tom Atherton, that they had received another offer, but that he could not disclose the amount of the offer, nor their identity, so as to protect client confidentiality. Dave Chapman then writes to Tom Atherton to remind him that TCDS’s offer is for £460,000 now, and an overage agreement worth, at that time, £4,999,500.

Later that day, Eversheds Solicitors notify TCDS that Saputo (Dairy) UK has exchanged contracts with another party (Fastglobe (Mastics) Ltd) in one line: “I understand our clients have spoken this morning and our client has confirmed that they have decided to proceed with the second purchaser”.

February 2020: On 6 February 2020 Directors of TCDS meet with Patrick Gillies as arranged, to provide him with the keys to the offices. Gillies advises that he had broken into the offices and changed the locks.

February 2020: Two of nine permits and licences required under Flood Risk Management and Surface Water Drainage Development Strategy are approved by the Environment Agency.

February 2020: On 29th February 2020 South Hams District Council determine on the first set of Reserved Matters which allows the start of work on site by Totnes Community Development Society in accordance with the Community Right to Build Order and the Reserved Matters.

February 2020: A letter formally introducing TCDS and setting out their interest in the site is sent to Fastglobe on 18 February and delivered (and signed for) on 19 February. This sets out the TCDS position and requests a meeting with Fastglobe. TCDS requests clarity as to Patrick Gillies’ role in the site and who he is acting on behalf of. This request for clarity is never satisfactorily responded to.

July 2020: Ethan Ross Bonnar, 22, tragically dies after falling through a roof on the former Dairy Crest site.

January 2021: When asked by TCDS to clarify the legal position, and the degree to which SHDC will uphold the Atmos plan as stated in the Joint Local Plan, SHDC write to confirm that “the Council as the LPA will always give the Joint Local Plan policies primacy in accordance with s38(6) of the 2004 Act. Any proposal must address these policies, in particular TTV22, and unless the applicant can demonstrate to the Council that there are material considerations which justify departure from these policies to the Council it is unlikely an alternative scheme would be supported”.

March 2021: TCDS learn that the site has been sold to Fastglobe (Mastics) Ltd for £1.35 million. The Atmos for Totnes campaign forms.