Futures Forum: Climate Week in Sidmouth ... Rob Hopkins and the Atmos Project >>> the report
Things are progressing very nicely, as this piece from the Western Morning News reported recently:
Meet the Devon town taking control of its development
By Western Morning News | Posted: May 16, 2015
Rob Hopkins and Anna Lodge
Inside the Hub - the 'memory wall'
Inside the Hub - plans for the site
In the South West, development is sometimes regarded as a dirty word, synonymous with industrialisation, destruction of habitat and overbearing corporations.
But a determined network of residents in Devon is staging a revolution as they fight to put people back in the heart of the development process.
Located on the site of the now-derelict Dairy Crest factory in Totnes, the Atmos project hub is an unassuming building from the outside. Yet walk through its glass doors, and it reveals a centre buzzing with creativity, passion and community spirit.
The ground-breaking design project – the latest in a series of innovative schemes initiated by the town – was prompted by the closure of the factory in 2007. Dairy Crest was one of the last big employers in the town and its exit led to the loss of 162 jobs and opened the area up to opportunistic developers looking to cash in.
But the famously independent town was not prepared to see the land transferred to the hands of another faceless investor or national chain. Instead, a small group of residents put forward the novel suggestion that the community submit its own plans for the site.
This planted the first seeds of what eventually became the Atmos Project, and several years down the line the town is well and truly taking control of its future.
“Our slogan from the beginning has been ‘the heart of a new economy’ – how can we use this whole thing to really stimulate the economy here,” explains project director, Rob Hopkins. “If we want communities like Totnes to have more control over their economic development, the way you do that is not just by opening the town up to Lidl, or Aldi or some other chain. You have to make sure a development is working as hard as possible for the town, rather than for distant shareholders.
“For many people the starting point for developments is when they go to a consultation, are shown the designs and asked whether or not they like it. But you can’t do really good development unless community is central to it from the beginning. Here, we are genuinely saying to residents ‘this is a blank slate’ and asking what they want to see happen to it.”
The project is the result of seven years of campaigning by residents as they sought to secure the factory site for the community. In 2012, they formed the Totnes Community Development Society to coordinate their actions, and in August last year Dairy Crest agreed to sell them part of the land for just £1.
Since then, society trustees and volunteers have been engaged in consultation and outreach events to generate a picture of what local people want from the space. By the end of the process they hope to distil the many thousands of ideas and suggestions submitted by community members into a single, coherent development plan for the site.
Bringing together the diverse views of thousands of Totnesians has been no mean feat. Fellow project director Anna Lodge said the combination of outreach events and an interactive exhibition at the hub – created by local design company Encounters – had been crucial to their success.
“No one really knows how to bring together over 8,000 people living in Totnes and ask them what they want, and then take those ideas to a group of professionals to turn into a formal plan,” she said. “The architects and other teams can go away and do their jobs, but they have to reflect those people’s principles in the site.
“I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the care people have taken to think about their role in this process – that’s the really moving thing. And what the process has done is show that actually we can satisfy a lot of what people want. Even if they can’t see the specific element they suggested, they can see it has been accounted for in the broader concept.”
The plans for the area are still in the early stages, but clear priorities have already emerged. These include an emphasis on economic and ecological sustainability, a mix of social and commercial spaces, and the incorporation of “genuinely affordable” housing.
These principles will be drawn up into a formal plan and submitted as a Community Right to Build order (CRtB) in mid-May, which is believed to be the first application of its kind to be submitted independently.
“Other applications have gone through a formal neighbourhood planning process, but this presents Totnes with an alternative route,” explains Mrs Lodge. “We’ve got a real responsibility and opportunity here.”
It will then be put to a local referendum in October and if it passes, trustees hope to see building commence “as soon as possible”.
There is little doubt that Atmos has transformed the way people regard the development process in Totnes. But the project has also acted as an inspiration to towns up and down the country, many of whom have already been in contact with trustees for their experiences and advice.
Mr Hopkins said he would like to think their efforts were helping to make it easier for groups looking to follow in their footsteps. “Totnes historically has been a laboratory town in lots of ways, whether it’s local currencies or this. Some of those things don’t go any further than Totnes, and some of those things do take off,” he said.
“Hopefully Atmos will be really important in changing the national narrative around development and who it’s for - it’s so important for communities to drive development. And I would say to anyone considering a community build ‘go for it’, because I think this is the future.”
“You have to be brave, you have to hold your nerve and you have to have difficult conversations” added Mrs Lodge. “But that means you will build the right thing.”
More information about the Atmos Project can be found at www.atmostotnes.org .
The Atmos Timeline
2007: Dairy Crest closed its Totnes factory, after taking it over from Unigate in 2000.
2012: Residents set up the Totnes Community Development Society (TCDS), and the town launched a campaign to secure a sustainable future for the Dairy Crest site.
2014: In August, TCDS agreed the sale of part of the old factory site for £1. In the following months, the first round of consultations was held.
2015: Further consultations took place in January and April. These will be used inform the final plans, the first phase of which are due to be submitted as a CRtB in May.
2015 onward: The CRtB plans will be put to a referendum in the summer. If the vote is in favour, building will start on the first phase of development as soon as possible.
Plans for the second phase will be submitted via conventional planning processes.
In brief: Community Right to Build Orders
Community Right to Build Orders (CRtBs) were introduced under the 2012 Localism Act. They allow communities to undertake small-scale, site-specific developments without going through the normal planning application process. Members of the community must set up a corporate body to manage the project. Plans must meet be approved by more than 50% of voters in a local referendum to succeed.
Meet the Devon town taking control of its development | Western Morning News
Futures Forum: "Small plus small plus small equals big" >>> 'There is a blind spot about economic regeneration in most local authorities'