In 2007 Totnes was experiencing the closure of Dairy Crest, the last big employer in the town,- and the prospect of Dartington Art College relocating to Falmouth. A broad-based community Steering Group was established to consider what could be done to generate jobs, provide local, affordable housing and improve local facilities.
By the following year a campaign to get English Heritage to list the Brunel Building had been successful and Atmos Totnes had been formed, named because of the connection with Brunel’s Atmospheric Railway and with recognition for the need to mitigate against climate change.
In the following years, this group discussed detailed ideas with Dairy Crest about what could be done with the site and by February 2011 SHDC adopted their ‘Totnes Site Allocation Development Plan Document’. In March 2011 Dairy Crest declared they would begin a process to seek full market value and proceed to a full planning application for the site as a way of establishing a value.
By February 2012, when there appeared to have been no progress, Totnes MP Sarah Wollaston met with Dairy Crest to find out why. They informed her that attempts to sell the site on the open market had drawn a blank. They said that they now had an interest in ‘leaving a legacy’ in Totnes and by June had agreed to seriously review the Atmos Totnes plans and to come back to them with how they would want to move forward.In July 2012 the Atmos project team formed the Totnes Community Development Society (TCDS). The Society, registered as an Industrial and Provident Society for the Benefit of the Community, is the legal entity which would take forward the Atmos project.
By December 2012 Dairy Crest agreed that the way forward was to agree Heads of Terms with TCDS and in April 2013 Heads of Terms were agreed. These provided for TCDS to undertake the master planning, acquire the site and develop it.
June 2013 saw the Heads of Terms between TCDS and Dairy Crest signed, setting out how TCDS would lead the creation of a masterplan for the site with a view to obtaining planning consents through the use of a Community Right to Buy Order and what conditions needed to be met in order for TCDS to obtain the freehold of the site. There was agreement to convert the agreed Heads of Terms into full legal agreements.
This process took longer than anticipated because Dairy Crest introduced another developer to the project (a company called McCarthy & Stone) that they wanted TCDS to work with.
On 25 September 2014 the project to establish the Community Right to Build Order (CRtBO) was formally launched. The announcement made by TCDS, Dairy Crest and McCarthy & Stone stated that the Society will follow the Community Right to Buy Order process and this would result in Dairy Crest selling the site to TCDS. From January to November 2015, TCDS and the design team facilitated over 20 consultation sessions. The public who came were given much information about the project and asked about their views of the design, the concept, their dreams for what could be. Through this period there were over 4,000 meaningful contributions by the local community and then the design team were asked to come up with plans to best meet the community need, having been briefed on the initial known constraints, investigations and the outcomes of the consultation.
In October 2015 Dairy Crest and McCarthy & Stone signed off Regulation 14 Consultation Community Right to Build Order documentation. This was the first formal consultation required under the Neighbourhood Planning Regulations 2012. Through November and December volunteers staffed the Atmos Hub every day of the week for nearly seven weeks answering questions about the design so that those visiting could have their say and submit a comment or an objection. In response to the feedback some changes were made to the design of the site.
In January 2016 McCarthy & Stone and Dairy Crest approved the revised master plan and by June SHDC declared the Community Right To Build Order met the basic conditions and should therefore progress to Independent Examination. By the summer the Independent Examiner’s report concluded that the Basic Conditions had been met and should proceed to referendum. In the four weeks prior to the referendum, information was made as accessible as possible regarding questions about the process, the designs and the Order. Directors and volunteers worked long hours in person and online to answer questions about the scheme so that every voter was fully informed.
The referendum was held on 23 November 2016 and the outcome was an almost 86% yes vote for the Community Right to Build Order for Atmos Totnes.
Yes. TCDS is a development company that has undertaken extensive pre feasibility works to ensure the scheme the town needs is possible and viable. The community led model for what constitutes viability is clearly different to that of the conventional commercial development that people are most familiar with. It has been proven to work in other parts of the country, such as in the Coin Street Community Builders development in London.
Atmos is not designed with the generation of a lump sum of profit to be realised immediately after the development is completed. It is designed around a model that will generate an income through revenue from rents and will generate a surplus from commercial activities on the site that will be used repay loans and, once these are paid off, use that surplus to invest in services for the wider community.
Although in March 2017 a Community Right to Build Order was made by South Hams, Dairy Crest confirmed they were still seeking confirmation from M&S that they wished to proceed. But by May all three parties met with their lawyers and agreed for TCDS to buy the entire site and deal directly with M&S. However, come July Dairy Crest were still chasing M&S to sign new legal agreements and this prevarication continued until 2019 when it transpired that M&S had revised their development plans in the SW area and withdrawn from the Atmos project.
In March 2019 the Joint Local Plan is adopted by SHDC, setting out the Community Right to Build Order for the site. Then in April, Suputo (a multinational firm), acquired Dairy Crest. An Independent valuation was jointly commissioned to determine a contract for the sale of the site. In September Saputo confirmed they were happy to sell the site with an overage on the land area set aside for retirement housing. They instructed solicitors to draw up agreements. In November solicitors issued termination of existing agreements to tidy up the contracts. TCDS requested that agreements remained in place until the exchange of contracts for sale. On 29 December Overage Agreement was agreed by Saputo and TCDS. Capital funding of £2.58M was approved by National Heritage Lottery Fund for the Brunel Building.
On 13 January 2020 TCDS confirmed they were ready to exchange contracts. On 17 January Saputo Solicitors notified TCDS that Saputo had exchanged contracts with Fastglobe and requested return of the keys. On 29 February SHDC determined that work could commence on the site in accordance with the Right to Build Order.
Throughout 2020, despite numerous attempts by TCDS to seek meetings with Saputo (Dairy) UK and Fastglobe (Mastics) Ltd or to engage in any kind of dialogue, they were met with silence. Fastglobe requested that TCDS spoke to their agents, Bruce Gillies, who refused to communicate. TCDS continued to explore all legal positions to date.
In March 2021 The AtmosforTotnes campaign to save ATMOS was launched. The following month Totnes became aware that Saputo had sold the site to Fastglobe, blocking the Community Right to Build Atmos. Patrick Gillies informed the campaign that his old client, Fastglobe Ltd, were acting as a ‘purchase vehicle’ for himself and his friend Robert Williams to develop the site for their own private profit with no intention of delivering the Atmos Totnes community-owned scheme.