Letter to the editor: Dartington – threatened with devastating change

The proposed sites. South Hams District Council

“Conservative party plans at their worst were realised in Dartington yesterday. The disastrous Joint Local Plan and its unsustainable plan which dumped far too many new housing sites in Dartington, left its very grubby marks at SHDC Planning Committee yesterday. Very regrettably, all my fellow Councillors except for Cllr Kate Kemp, voted in favour of Broom Park and all except Cllr Kate Kemp and Cllr Guy Pannell voted against Sawmills Field West. Only Cllr Kemp supported my proposal for REFUSAL. The others it seems were very happy (and most said very little) to wave through two major sites that will change the rural nature of Dartington forever.

We heard professional reports that challenge the developer’s wildlife reports (i.e. apparent under reporting of the wildlife (flora and fauna) that are actually living on and depending on these sites), but apparently that’s okay, even though some are legally protected. We heard about the medieval hamlet of Week (which gets flooded already) and that more waters being diverted from higher ground at Sawmills Field above now scheduled for to be built on could put those beautiful old houses at risk of more severe flooding; apparently that’s okay too.

We heard that the developers may put large drainage pipes through another field that has been surveyed as being ancient meadow (97 per cent of which has been lost in England alone), or they may just dig up about two thirds of this same field to create an attenuation pond instead (and bear in mind that this additional field – worthy of special status – is not an allocated site); apparently that is okay too. The setting of Grade II listed St Mary’s church – over the road from Broom Park and with beautiful Week Hamlet below – will both be spoilt by the Broom Park development; apparently that doesn’t matter either.

The increased traffic that is already causing dangerous levels of pollutants and was reported to the meeting as causing asthma is children living along the A385 in Dartington already? Well, more of that from the additional 120 new houses apparently won’t make any difference – in fact the Highways officer at the meeting said he “prefers houses to be built right up to the road as that helps slow the traffic down”; so that’s alright too is it? And apparently we don’t need extra zebra crossing to help people connect across these increasingly busy roads or to reach the bus stop; just one to get to the post office is fine!

The developers claim that these are much-needed houses, but by whom? They will only be delivering 30 per cent (36 of the 120 houses they plan to build) as so-called affordable housing (80 per cent of market price), and Dartington’s neighbourhood plan has identified housing needs that are far below all the new house numbers that have already been built in Dartington.

This is politics at its worst, from the top down with Boris and his party donors, many of whom are property developers drawing up planning policies that their true blue Councillors turn into local plans. The Joint local Plan for this area is not based on a Strategic Settlement pattern that would avoid the sensitive wildlife and heritage areas and sustain the delightful organic growth patterns that have worked for hundreds of years to support our historic towns, villages and hamlets and provide the housing we need.

No, instead we get suburbia, because that is how developers can make their money and very sadly it seems Dartington Hall Trust has been complicit in this by putting forward all these beautiful sites for development time and time again. Presumably they will go on doing so until they have completely destroyed the important wildlife corridor that snakes through the heart of Dartington and sold off the whole estate.

It’s all about GREED, not about meeting housing needs, because if the latter was the case, then South Hams District Council would be investing in social housing again instead of investing £9 million in a new Aldi in Ivybridge (which I didn’t vote for either).

And as for a Case Officer for the Baker Estates planning applications where Baker Estates pays the fees of that dedicated officer (and SHDC have still not posted his planning performance agreement’ (PPA) on an easily accessible webpage) who is at the helm of making recommendations to the planning committee. Apparently it didn’t matter that hundreds of local people had written in objecting and the Parish Council had voted time and time again against the development of these sites – so much for localism. The whole system is a shameful mess and at the expense of our beautiful and vulnerable wildlife, wonderful built heritage, public health and local people who are forced to watch aghast and helpless as ten people sit and vote in disastrous new developments in Dartington. No one has ever answered my question as to why almost 10 per cent of all the new housing in the South Hams and West Devon is being built in Totnes & Dartington. This area is being shafted and it really is heartbreaking.”

Councillor Jacqi Hodgson, Green Party ward councillor for Dartington and Staverton

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Editor: Changes to planning law will disempower local people and councils yet further when, already, many current decisions frequently seem totally at odds with alleged ambitions to preserve nature and adopt green policies. Conflicts of interest have been identified at the highest levels and we have had the Jenrick cash for planning scandal, too, in addition to his ideological indifference to rural planning issues. If you have a story for us, please get in touch. Editor_@westcountryvoices.co.uk