For 7 years The Dairy Crest site was left to ruin as private investors refused to buy what was deemed a liability.

In 2007 Totnes was experiencing the closure of Dairy Crest - the last big employer in the town. As the site fell into ruin 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.

In 2008 a campaign to save the Brunel Building and get English Heritage to list it 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.

  • For 7 years Dairy Crest fail to sell the site on the open market.
  • In 2008 a community campaign succeeds in saving the iconic Brunel Building.
  • Totnes Community Development Society (TCDS) is established to formulate the Atmos Project and bring the site into community ownership.

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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.



After years of pressure Dairy Crest agreed to leave a lasting legacy for the town.

June 2014 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.

Bringing together the best local expertise  - architects, surveyors, builders, and decontamination specialists, TCDS gathered a team that were ready to work with the community to create the Atmos Project.

Totnes Community Development Society (TCDS) agree terms with Dairy Crest and start extensive planning of the site.

  • Sale and option legal agreements acquired.
  • Heads of Terms between TCDS and Dairy Crest signed.
  • The Atmos Project community process begins.
  • Flood modelling and environmental assesments carried out.
  • Ecology report to assess numbers of bats and wildlife corridors.

Early on it was agreed the scheme needed to be different from private development. It needed to be carbon neutral, owned and managed by the community, an inspiring place to live, work and relax, financially viable, connected to the historic town, and improving the prosperity  of the town.

Now we needed to listen to the residents of Totnes.

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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 and the community of Totnes.



In 2015 Totnes residents get to help design and then vote for what they want to see in the Atmos Project.

From January to November 2015, the design team facilitated over 20 consultation sessions. The public were given information about the project and asked about their views on the design, the concept, and what they wanted to see on the site.

Through this period there were over 4,000 meaningful contributions by the local community.

Having been briefed on the initial known constraints, investigations and the outcomes of the consultation the design team were asked to come up with plans to best meet the community need.

  • 4,000 meaningful contributions by the local community.
  • Design team facilitated over 20 consultation sessions.
  • Extensive pre feasibility works.

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 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.



  • Lawyers agree for TCDS to buy the entire site.
  • March 2017 a Community Right to Build Order was 'made' by South Hams.
  • 86% yes vote for the Atmos Project in a historic referendum.

Within a short timeframe of 2 years the design work continued, setting out the flood management, transport issues, ecology reporting and financial phasing for the site.

The referendum was held on 23 November 2016 and the outcome was an almost 86% yes vote.

Over a 2 year period the design team un-lock the sites potential and realise the towns vision.

By 2017 the blueprint is ready, funding secured, partners in place.

Although in March 2017 a Community Right to Build Order was made by South Hams, Dairy Crest confirmed they were still seeking confirmation from McCarthy & Stone developers of the residential units 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 McCarthy & Stone.

Can you really deliver the Atmos Project?

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.



McCarthy & Stone delay and then step aside as the Atmos project blueprint is adjusted and updated

In July 2017 Dairy Crest were still chasing McCarthy & Stone to sign new legal agreements and this prevarication continued until 2018 when it transpired that McCarthy & Stone had revised their development plans in the southwest region and withdrawn from the Atmos project.

The plans are revised and new contractors found to develop the area of the site that was set out for McCarthy & Stone.

In April 2019, Saputo Inc (a giant Canadian dairy firm), acquired Dairy Crest which became Saputo (Dairy) UK.

An independent valuation was jointly commissioned to determine a contract for the sale of the site.

In September 2019 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 with Totnes Community Developers

Everything was in place and the town had just been granted the one of the largest ever Lottery grants of £2.58m for the restoration of the Brunel building.

  • South Hams District Council determined that work can commence on the site in accordance with the Right to Build Order.
  • Saputo Inc. acquire Dairy Crest.
  • Joint Local Plan adopted by SHDC, setting out the Community Right to Build Order for the site.
  • Capital funding of £2.58M approved by National Heritage Lottery Fund for the Brunel building conversion into a national arts and music venue.

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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. 


Jan 2020
The betrayal of the town

  • Behind the scenes Saputo (Dairy) UK sell the site to FastGlobe (Mastics) for £1.35m two days before agreement.
  • Keys are taken and TCDS are locked out of the site.
  • It is later found that Saputo (Dairy) UK's COO and President Tom Atherton is the brother-in-law of Patrick Gillies, who brokered, and stands to benefit from the deal
  • The site continues to fall into decline.

13 January 2020 TCDS confirm they are ready to exchange contracts.

17 January 2020 Saputo Solicitors notified Totnes Community Developers that Saputo had just exchanged contracts with another party for 1.35 million.

A behind the scenes deal with Fastglobe is brokered by Patrick Gillies, a land agent based in Totnes.

TCDS offices are broken into by Patrick Gillies who changes the locks.

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.

It becomes clear that Fastglobe's lawyers had used an unachievable technicality from the original sale agreement to terminate TCDS contracts, meaning they could now make a new sale.

There is more yet to uncover. George Monbiot writes in the Guardian in September 2021, "The sale had been brokered by a land agent called Patrick Gillies. In March this year, local people had a meeting with him, which they recorded with his permission. He told them something extraordinary. FastGlobe Ltd was, for the purposes of the deal, “a purchase vehicle. That’s all. It’s like a bank.” Gillies explained that he was the coordinator, project manager and partner of the site. Now the community has discovered something else. Patrick Gillies was, until Atherton got divorced, Tom Atherton’s brother-in-law".

  • Contracts are cancelled on a technicality concerning an external walkway.
  • Trees are felled to remove wildlife corridor.
  • Teenager dies falling from roof.

We are campaigning to get the site back, fighting for what's right.

In March 2021, the Atmos for Totnes campaign to save the Atmos Project is launched.

  • The press start to hear about the Campaign and it features on BBC Spotlight
  • Prominent local and international experts and celebrities back the campaign
  • Brian Eno puts on a secret art projection to highlight the campaign
  • A successful public meeting is held in October 2021 in the town's Civic Hall.
  • The Atmos Hub, a drop in exhibition in the Mansion, is created so people can find out more.

The Atmos for Totnes campaign is working to ensure Totnes gets the scheme it voted for.

Join us to make the future a positive one.

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