The Town Council Proposal: A TimeLine Summary

Totnes Town Council (TTC) is seeking to buy a large part of the former Lower School site from King Edward VI Community College (KEVICC) to save and protect a much loved green space and building for the town.

It wants to work with local people to transform the site into a flourishing community hub for sports, recreation, arts, learning, making, enterprise, food and green energy. It also plans to improve access to the River Dart and connectivity with the railway station and the town centre for pedestrians and cyclists.

TTC’s application to have the entire Lower School site formally listed as an Asset of Community Value (under the Localism Act) was approved by SHDC in November 2021. This recognises the importance and future potential of the site in supporting the well-being of local people, especially young people. The site also provides an important ‘green lung’ along the heavily polluted Ashburton Rd, an Air Quality Management Area.
TTC fully acknowledges that KEVICC has an urgent need for major investment in new buildings on its main Redworth campus and needs to fund this through the sale of surplus assets, including a large part of the Lower School site (referred to by TTC as the ‘Elmhirst Site’ comprising the 1920’s Elmhirst Building and the large field in front) and three others sites on the opposite side of the road, for housing development.

TTC has sought from the outset to find a solution that is in the best interest of the college and the town. It has proposed that the Town Council buys the Elmhirst Site at an independently certified market value based on housing use, so KEVICC and its future plans are not disadvantaged.
The site is a publicly owned Asset of Community Value, originally acquired and built by Devon County Council for the Totnes community. TTC and KEVICC are both public bodies accountable to local people. For these reasons, TTC feels it is wholly against the public interest to enter a competitive bidding war for the site with private-sector housing developers and so requests to buy the site at a fair market value. KEVICC could still sell its three other housing development sites on the opposite side of the road via the open market.

TTC has urged the governors of KEVICC (and the trustees of the Dart Valley Learning Trust, the community trust which holds the College’s land assets) to transfer / sell the Elmhirst Site direct to the town at market value without going through a competitive open market process. Legally, this conforms with the terms of the Localism Act (Community Right to Buy) and other Government guidance for the disposal of public
assets. TTC has also sought the support of the Secretaries of State for Education and Communities for this approach.

TTC made a formal offer to KEVICC of £2.5m for the Elmhirst Site in April 2022.

KEVICC remains resolved to proceed with a competitive open-market process geared towards achieving the highest price for all of its sites. It has recently advertised them for sale with a deadline for offers of 22 July 2022. It is not yet clear whether KEVICC has received formal approval from the Secretary of State for Education to dispose of the sites, which may still be pending.

We seek to provide a fact sheet & timeline of the process and activities undertaken by Totnes Town Council to date from 1 February 2021 until the current time.

1 February 2021


• TTC Council formally identifies the former KEVICC Lower School (including the Elmhirst Building) as a potential Asset of Community Value (ACV) and agrees to pursue an ACV application to South Hams District Council (SHDC) as soon as possible.

14th June to 26th July 2021


Totnes Pulse article here

27th July to 6th September 2021


• In response to growing concern in the community, TTC agrees i) to begin a feasibility study to explore the viability of the Town Council buying some of the KEVICC Lower School site (E/F1 on KEVICC plan) and ii) to submit an application to SHDC to list the entire Lower School site as an Asset of Community Value. It progresses both projects in parallel to an agreed budget.
• From the outset, TTC’s plans for the Lower School site are designed to be positive and constructive and secure a “win, win, win” solution for all parties that:

1. Enables TTC to acquire sites E/F1 (renamed “the Elmhirst Site”) to protect and enhance the open green spaces and Elmhirst Building for the benefit of the community;
2. Pays KEVICC a fair market value for the Elmhirst Site (based on housing and not community use), so the College’s need for major capital receipts to invest in the future improvement of the main Redworth campus is respected;
3. Enables SHDC to meet its aspirations, obligations and targets under the Joint Local Plan, which shows all of KEVICC’s proposed development sites providing up to a maximum of 130 housing units in total (the layout and distribution of which is currently flexible).

• Supported by the services of a project manager and professional legal and property advisers, TTC carries out an intensive feasibility study during August 2021 to explore the legal, technical and financial viability of its plans to acquire the Elmhirst Site. This also includes informal engagement with the KEVICC principal and a range of individual governors.

• A separate planning adviser supports the development of TTC’s ACV application for the entire Lower School site (E/F1/F2/G on KEVICC plan) which is submitted to SHDC on 2 Sept.
• The feasibility study is then reported to full Council on 6 Sept. This presents:

1. A legal assessment of the Dart Valley Learning Trust and advice that, subject to more detailed Counsel’s opinion, TTC has the legal powers required to acquire the site;

2. Property advice including an estimated market value for the Elmhirst Site (E/F1) for housing use, an outline budget to repair and revitalise the Elmhirst Building and a proposed property strategy going forward;
3. Financial and funding advice which suggests that the project may be eligible for prudential borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) for site acquisition costs (ie a public sector loan at very low rates of interest over 50 years which could be serviced by revenue from car parking on the Elmhirst Site), and for National Lottery and Govt. grants and other sources of grant and philanthropic funding to renovate the Elmhirst Building and enhance the outdoor spaces;
4. That the outdoor green spaces would also be suitable for ground source heat pumps and that TRESOC would be interested in installing and managing such a system;
5. That a range of experienced UK arts professionals based in the South Hams would be willing to work with TTC to guide a citizen participation process to shape a vision and plan for the future use of the Elmhirst Site, with a particular focus on enriching the lives of children and young people in Totnes and the surrounding area.

• Based on the report, TTC formally agrees to a Stage 2 feasibility study to i) seek Counsel’s opinion on outstanding legal issues; ii) appoint master planners to undertake a desktop planning assessment, site capacity study and outline masterplan for KEVICC’s other sites on the edge of the main Redworth Campus (sites A, B & C on KEVICC plan) to explore whether they could accommodate the full Joint Local Plan target of 130 housing units; iii) formally engage with SHDC at a senior level including the planning team; iv) seek an audience with all KEVICC governors to present the feasibility findings and open initial negotiations and iv) begin to raise the profile of the project via press and social media.

7th September to end October 2021


• TTC seeks Counsel’s opinion which confirms that it does have the legal powers to acquire the site at a housing market value for community uses.
• It appoints leading UK master-planners LDA Design (Exeter Office) to carry out the planning assessment and capacity and outline master plans for KEVICC sites A, B & C. This shows it could be possible to accommodate c.130 units of housing on these 3 sites, subject to the
proposed mix of units, while maintaining Kennicott House, mature trees and an ecology-rich landscape.
• TTC meets the Leader, CEO and a senior planning officer of SHDC on 7 October to outline its current position and forthcoming need for planning input to the LDA studies. LDA’s first draft studies and plans are then submitted to Planning and a meeting requested to discuss them.
• In early Sept, TTC requests to meet all KEVICC governors to present the findings of the feasibility work to date. That request is declined but TTC is offered an initial meeting with KEVICC!s Site Development Group (governors Jim Lodge, Julian Carnell and Alan Salt and Business Director Stephen Corline, which is advised by Torbay Development Agency) on 15 September. This meeting establishes KEVICC’s firm intention to sell its sites via a
competitive open-market process (which we are told is a legal necessity under best value) and that TTC is welcome to make an offer via this route.
• TTC then writes to all KEVICC governors on 20 and 29 Sept. outlining the findings of the feasibility studies to date, positively stating TTC’s desire to find a “win, win, win” solution in the best interest of the Totnes community, and requesting a meeting with all governors during the second half of October. The second letter also provides alternative legal advice (including Govt. guidance notes) from TTC’s legal advisors on the disposal of public assets. This suggests that KEVICC could choose to transfer the Elmhirst Site to TTC as a fellow public sector body without a competitive open-market process, based on a market value established by a ‘valuation certificate’ from an independent valuer.
• TTC is informed by KEVICC that its recent letters will not be circulated to all governors and only to the Site Development Group. The request to meet all governors is also declined but TTC is offered a second meeting with the Site Development Group on 9 Nov.
• TTC updates its website and issues a statement via the press and social media updating the public on its plans for the Elmhirst Site. The public response is mainly very positive and supportive of TTC’s approach

5th November 2021


• SHDC formally notifies TTC that its application to nominate the entire Lower School site (E/F1/F2/G) as an Asset of Community Value has been successful and the site is now listed on the official ACV register, under the terms of the Localism Act.
• TTC is given until mid-December to formally confirm its interest in acquiring the site (which it does) and then a fixed period of six months from the listing date to seek to make a formal offer for the site ie by 5 May 2022.

5 Nov 2021 to 13 April 2022


• With the ACV status now secured and the intent of the Localism Act being clear (ie to support the community’s right to buy ACV’s), TTC approaches the local MP, Devon County Council (DCC) and the Secretary of State (SoS) for Education to seek support for its “win, win, win”
solution, including the transfer of the Elmhirst Site as a public asset from KEVICC to TTC at an independently certified market value, to avoid a competitive open-market sale. Letters are sent to all parties by TTC / its legal advisers seeking their help and intervention and, in the case of the SoS, requesting that KEVICC’s request to dispose of the sites is not determined until the outstanding issues are resolved. Non committal holding responses are received.

• SHDC Planning Team declines the request for a meeting with TTC and LDA to discuss the first draft plans for sites A, B & C, explaining it would prefer to respond in writing. Its comments are received by email and appear confusing and contradictory. TTC / LDA take issue with many of these comments and so again request a face-to-face meeting with the planners to explore and challenge their feed-back prior to preparing a second iteration of the capacity plan / masterplan to share with KEVICC. This request is again rejected and comes with an additional list of unhelpful comments. TTC decides to address this issue in its next meeting with the CEO of SHDC, requesting his support for a meeting with the planners.

• The meeting with KEVICC’s Site Development Group takes place on 7 Nov. TTC asks KEVICC as a fellow public sector body, community college and beneficiary of the generosity of the Elmhirst’s of Dartington (who donated the Redworth campus site and parts of the Lower School site to the local community) to actively consider its proposed route to transfer the Elmhirst Site to the town at a certified market value (for housing), with the approval of the SoS.

TTC also:
• expresses its view that it would be entirely inappropriate ie against the best interest of the community and the purpose of the Localism Act, for a public sector body like itself to compete with private sector developers on the open market for a publicly owned asset;
• asks KEVICC to work in partnership with TTC in good faith, outlining the benefits of the Elmhirst Project to KEVICC students and the wider community;
• highlights that KEVICC could increase the housing density and value of its other sites(A, B & C) getting close to the figure of 130 units in the Joint Local Plan for sale on the open market. It also highlights that TTC’s Elmhirst Project would reduce the burden on the other sites to provide community facilities, further increasing their value.
• TTC submits its proposals in writing to all KEVICC governors in time for their next full governors meeting in mid-December. This is sent on 28 November but does not receive a reply before Christmas or New Year. TTC then chases the letter in early January, highlighting the fact that KEVICC’s delay in responding is using up precious time in the limited 6 month ACV period. A response is eventually received on 17 January which reverts to KEVICC’s fixed position of a competitive open market sale. TTC writes to DCC again, requesting it facilitates a round table meeting between TTC and KEVICC.
• TTC meets the CEO and a senior planning officer of SHDC on 1 February. It is eventually agreed that TTC and LDA can attend a face-to-face meeting with the planners to explore and challenge their previous written feedback and seek advice on the next iteration of the capacity
plan / masterplan for sites A, B & C. This iteration will then be shared with KEVICC in the hope that a joint workshop involving SHDC, TTC/LDA and KEVICC can then be scheduled.
• With the intervention and involvement of DCC, a formal meeting takes place between TTC and KEVICC on 2 February. This is without prejudice and subject to contract.
• Following comments made during the SHDC and KEVICC 2 February meeting and following legal advice, TTC issues FOI / EIR requests to SHDC and KEVICC in order to ascertain the facts before requesting further meetings.
• TTC sends further letters to the MP for Totnes asking him to intervene with both SoS’s for Education and Communities, highlighting the current lack of coherence and clarity between the purposes of the Localism Act put in place to empower the community’s right to buy ACV’s and the Department of Education and its interpretation of best value in the sale of publicly owned assets. Not least in a situation where a public sector body like TTC is invoking the Localism Act to seek to acquire and protect public assets under the “ownership” of the Department of Education. TTC also writes directly to both SoS’s in the same vein. It receives an email response from a civil servant in the SoS for Education’s department, supporting
KEVICC’s open market sale.
• TTC is unable to progress its loan application to the PWLB without an agreed position and price for the Elmhirst Site. However, it secures quotes from professional parking providers which clarify the anticipated annual revenue from the existing car parking spaces within the Elmhirst Site.

13 April to 22 July 2022


• TTC submits an email offer of £2.5m (based on valuation advice and subject to a confirmed loan from the PWLB) for the Elmhirst Site on 13 April. KEVICC acknowledges this offer on 27 April and then formally on 20 May and directs TTC towards its forthcoming marketing exercise for the sale of the site. It advises TTC to follow its formal Submission of Offers route by 22 July 2022. TTC intends to resubmit its previous offer via this route.

• Meanwhile, TTC writes again to the SoS for Education to challenge the previous guidance received and continue to ask the MP for Totnes to put pressure on the SoS’s for Education and Communities to resolve the apparent disparity between the Localism Act (Community Right to Buy) and the DoE guidance for the disposal of public assets ASAP.

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