I know nothing about Atmos Totnes, what is it?

A community-led project to redevelop a derelict industrial site (the Dairy Crest site next to Totnes rail station) for homes and businesses in Totnes. Plans show 99 homes (62 of which will be genuinely affordable for the community and 37 will be for older people), and enterprise and work space providing employment for at the very least 160 people plus services and amenities to support the Atmos Totnes and the community of Totnes. A new route to planning has been used – the Community Right to Build Order. In preparing for this route there were over 4,500 meaningful contributions into the design process from the community and a professional design team has supported in meeting the design needs within the substantial constraints of the site itself.

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Does Atmos Totnes have planning permission?

Yes. Subsequent to the community-led design process the scheme was taken through a Community Right to Build Order process (one of the first in the country) concluding with a referendum by local people last November 2016 where 86% of votes were cast in favour of the scheme receiving planning permission. Consequently the Community Right to Build Order for the scheme (including the Brunel Building) was Made by South Hams District Council on 1st March this year.

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What were  local people being asked to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to in the Atmos Totnes referendum?

In the referendum held on the 23 November 2016, the ballot paper had the question “Do you want the development in the Community Right to Build Order for Totnes Neighbourhood Area to have planning permission?” The community had the opportunity to either say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to this question and Atmos Totnes.

In the run up to the referendum people were invited take a look at the plans for the proposed development so that they could each make their choice.  Atmos Totnes plans include:

  • 99 homes including 62 truly affordable houses linked only to this community, and 37 ring- fenced homes for older people
  • Workspace for local businesses to provide at least 160 jobs
  • Refurbishment of the Brunel Building, a health and wellbeing centre, space dedicated to the whole community (young and old alike)
  • Community ownership of the majority of the land through a town wide share issue
  • Flood defence for Totnes through redevelopment of the site
  • Training opportunities through the build, management and maintenance of the site.

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How would future design work needed for Atmos Totnes be dealt with in terms of planning?

The Totnes community voted ‘yes’ in a local referendum to the Community Right to Build Order for Atmos Totnes being given planning permission. Therefore, Atmos Totnes must be carried out in accordance with the Order Conditions set out in the Order. These Order Conditions, written in full in the Order, stipulate what must happen before development commences on the site and how development must be undertaken. Where further details are needed for the design, these would be the subject of community consultation as a community-led development, and must be developed in accordance with Order and, as per the Order Conditions, must be submitted to and approved in writing by South Hams District Council before development commences. It is the sole responsibility of South Hams District Council to discharge the Conditions.

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Who decided what should be proposed for the former Dairy Crest site?

When Totnes was asked to say how the old Dairy Crest site should be developed hundreds of people from the town asked for:

  • affordable housing – affordable to live in for the people of Totnes into the future with a Totnes only housing policy and allocation
  • industry and workspace – to provide the space for Totnes businesses to grow and work together
  • community space – for youngsters, older people, families… for everyone in Totnes to use. To keep fit and well, enjoy food, leisure activities and the company of others.

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How were the plans developed for Atmos Totnes?

Over the last two years the Atmos Totnes project has been designed by thousands of people in this community. They have been working alongside designers and engineers to develop and review plans, to meet the needs of this town through this disused piece of land. Atmos Totnes is progressing through a Community Right to Build Order, a formal planning process. The scheme has been shown to meet local and national planning policy and regulations, and has received a ‘yes’ vote at a local referendum.

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 How will the community benefit from Atmos Totnes?

Totnes, like many places, is under huge pressure for new housing. Atmos Totnes offers a new model, one where the community itself determines the development of a site. This has huge potential both locally and nationally. Atmos Totnes will create jobs, genuinely affordable homes, skills, training, new spaces for local businesses, be a development that will attract visitors to Totnes, and much more.

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How is Atmos Totnes using a different route to planning?

Plans have been developed for Atmos Totnes using a brief formed from this community. There has been support from a Design Team (professional consultants) to help deliver plans to meet this brief and overcome some substantial constraints on this site. The plans have been reviewed several times by the community and the design team since September 2014 when consultation on the design of the site began.

The Community Right to Build process involves a number of formal consultation periods (for a full overview of all the stages of the process, see here). Subsequently an Independent Examiner looks to see that planning regulations and Basic Conditions have been met, and reviews the formal consultation. They will then recommend (or not) that the development goes forward to a referendum. This ultimately gives the community the right to vote on if they want the development to take place (or not). You can read the report of the Independent Examiner for Atmos Totnes here. The referendum for Atmos Totnes took place on Wednesday 23 November 2016. Any development that is built on the site will have to conform and be built in accordance to the Community Right to Build Order consented through the referendum.  

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What happens next?

There is still be work to do as a community to determine how the site will be managed, as well as ongoing design work. The collaborative approach design and community involvement that has characterised the process thus far will continue. We will also continue to work in partnership with local agencies to ensure all design work is in conformity with the Community Right to Build Order and meets planning regulations, and South Hams District Council will approve the further detail added through this on-going community engagement.

As well as on-going design work, Totnes Community Development Society will be engaging the community in the construction process. There will be a community share offer in order to increase community ownership of the project.  The boundary of the offer will not be restricted to the electoral area of the Referendum, and will be designed to be as inclusive as possible.

We will be looking to be onsite in 2017, but there are conditions that we have to discharge first, which are detailed within the Community Right to Build Order itself.  At every stage following a ‘Yes’ vote we will need you to be involved … this is a community-led project!

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Does the Community Right to Build process give individuals less opportunity to get involved or object to what is being built?

No. There are more opportunities to be involved through this route than through traditional routes to planning. Importantly normal standards in relation to planning regulations, and also a number of Basic Conditions, apply. This is not an easier route to planning, but we believe it is a fairer route for a community as whole.

Community Right to Build Order process as new route to planning offers substantially more opportunity to input and comment on each stage of design by a community than other planning processes. There have been over 4,500 contributions during consultation for Atmos Totnes since consultation started in September 2014. There have been over 20 consultation sessions (some several weeks long). Specific groups have been offered consultation sessions as part of this.

It is important to note that whilst this is a community-led development that does not mean that anyone developing on the Dairy Crest site is able to disregard planning regulations. The Community Right to Build Order process still ensures that all the usual planning regulations are met as well as a number of Basic Conditions. Statutory bodies have to review the materials, and an Independent Examiner has reviewed the process facilitated by Totnes Community Development Society and recommended that Atmos Totnes project proceed to referendum. This referendum enabled the community to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the Community Right to Build Order for Atmos Totnes.

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How can I get involved?

There  are a number of ways to get involved with Atmos Totnes.

  • anyone can sign up as a Supporter here to keep in touch with the project. 
  • let us know what skills you might be able to offer in support of Atmos Totnes here

And of course if you’d like to fund and support what we’re doing financially we’d love to hear from you.

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What is an Independent Examiner?

In the Community Right to Build Order process, the Independent Examiner is jointly appointed by Totnes Community Development Society and South Hams District Council. A formal panel of Independent Examiners exists in England which has been developed by a number of industry bodies including the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, Planning Officers Society and The Royal Town Planning Institute. Individuals on the panel are experienced professionals with a background in planning (and often other connected disciplines) and have had specific and detailed training around the new Neighbourhood Planning Regulations, including Community Right to Build Orders. They assess the Order against the Basic Conditions: including checking if planning policy has been dealt with appropriately as well as ensuring the consultation has been carried out in the correct way.

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How does this process relate to all the other development projects in the area at the moment?

Currently Atmos Totnes stands as its own development and is unrelated to any other development locally. However, we know that other projects and developments will be watching Atmos Totnes because of the use of a Community Right to Build Order and therefore we will share what we learn when appropriate and time allows.

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Who is running this process/ who ultimately manages this process?

Totnes Community Development Society is managing this process and is responsible for taking Atmos Totnes forward. TCDS is not for profit organisation (an Industrial Provident Society for the benefit of the community). You can read more about the current Board of TCDS here.

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How will the site be run after it is developed?

Atmos Totnes will in large part, be owned and run by the community. We are currently developing the ownership and management plan for the site. We are exploring how Atmos Totnes can operate locally as a Community Land Trust of some description. The form of this is yet to be decided and a number of existing and new and exploratory models are being considered. For general information about Community Land Trusts here.

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Can I access the Dairy Crest site and historic Brunel building?

Not at the moment. When it is practical and safe to do so we will organise tours of the site. Sign-up for our newsletter and we will let you know when these are scheduled. Until the site is open we request your patience. We are also aware that people are taking photos of the building from the station platform. This can be very disruptive for our neighbours, the station staff, and potentially dangerous. Therefore, we kindly request that you don’t use the station for viewing or photography.

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Why is TCDS working with McCarthy and Stone and what is the relationship?

They approached Dairy Crest to build on the site during the time that the Totnes community was also in discussion with Dairy Crest. As a result Totnes Community Development Society and McCarthy and Stone have a cooperation agreement. They each have legal agreements in place regarding future purchase of the land  from its current owner Dairy Crest.

TCDS is leading the development and taking forward the Community Right to Build Order for the development as a whole. Therefore what is to be developed by McCarthy and Stone on the site will fit within the Atmos Totnes development as a whole. Atmos Totnes will develop of the majority of the land through a Community Land Trust (CLT) and the remainder as retirement housing from McCarthy and Stone (who would own and develop a portion of the land). Any development that is built on the site (as a CLT or by McCarthy and Stone) will have to conform to the Community Right to Build Order consented through the referendum.

A partnership such as this between a landowner, commercial developer and a community organisation is new and we hope will set a national precedent and learning. We are continually reviewing how this partnership supports the Atmos Totnes process overall, and across the whole site.

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Where is the money coming from?

Getting this far, and producing the level of detailed work that underpins the Community Right to Build Order for Atmos Totnes has required money from a mixture of grant support, social investment and from philanthropic individuals who have given or lent money in order to progress the project. You can see more about our current funders here.

Once planning consent is in place for the site, Atmos Totnes we be built in a series of phases, each one of which will be thoroughly costed and for which a detailed business plan will be created. Funding for the development will come from a mixture of community investment, loans from appropriate financial institutions and individual investors, as well as grant support.

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Will this development take people and jobs away from historic town centre?

Local enterprise, supporting decent livelihoods are at the heart of Atmos Totnes, and that extends well beyond the Atmos site itself. It is a principle, established by the community during the consultation process, and which has since underpinned all the work on designing the site plans that are included in the Community Right to Build Order. The final mix of uses proposed are designed complement and add to our vital and historic high street economy rather than detract from it. As a national first, and a creative and pioneering development it is likely that Atmos Totnes, if built, will be a draw to people from across the UK and beyond. Its location next to the train station should encourage this further. More visitors to Totnes is likely to benefit the town and beyond.

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