Plan for 173 homes on Torrington Creamery site approved despite no affordable homes

North Devon Gazette

Torridge Council has agreed to grant planning permission for a £42 million development of 173 new homes on a site in Torrington that has been derelict for 20 years.

The homes would cover over the derelict sites of the old creamery and a disused South West Water site, which are currently unsightly hotspots for fly tipping and dangerous trespassing.

The plans, four separate applications adding up to one master plan with new roads, play areas and allotments, were unanimously approved by the plans committee.

Speaking ahead of the vote, mayor of Great Torrington, councillor Doug Smith said: “Really what was the pride of the town, with a history of employment [at the creamery] for many, the site has become a thorn in the flesh and is often referred to as a ‘Chernobyl’.

“Sadly, the buildings are long past saving and really have become a magnet for intruders seeking excitement.”

Describing how emergency services have often been called to the area he said: “it’s a bit of a nightmare,” and that he hoped to see Torridge Council “relegate this entire episode to history.”

The site is a mixture of brown and greenfield land on the borders of the Great Torrington Commons green space.

The derelict buildings would be demolished and the land cleaned of pollution before any building occurs.

Hybrid planning permission was granted for 136 homes and a retail space back in 2017, but has not proved financially viable.

The developers, International Property Consultancy LLP, hope the newly expanded proposals with 37 additional properties will finally give them the chance to start building.

One of the buildings will be converted into a bat house at a cost of £37,000 for the flying mammals that have nestled in the derelict sites.

A statement by Great Torrington Councillor Cheryl Cottle-Hunkin was read out at the meeting. She described the old creamery as an ‘eyesore’ that had been around as long as she could remember and detailed how the derelict buildings put lives at risk and a strain on emergency services.

Dan Lethbridge, one of the architects of the plans, spoke to the council ahead of the vote, saying: “The application before you today offers deliverable, sustainable development on a very technically challenging site.

“The masterplan proposals will provide a wide range of public realm improvements on this important riverside location.”

Though given full approval by the committee, councillors warned that the lack of offsite contribution towards education in the plans means new homes could put additional strain on schools in the area.

They also cast an eye over the lack of affordable housing in the plans, which the developers say is essential if the project is to be viable.

Councillor Peter Christie, (Green, Bideford North) criticised the developers for saying affordable housing was financially unviable while also budgeting a ‘ridiculous’ £829,700 to market the 173 homes. That’s an average of £4,795 for marketing each property, with the homes expected be valued at around £240,000.

He said: “Houses are being sold on the internet without anyone looking at them. Is it really going to cost that much?”

Cllr Christie made clear his desire that the developers: ‘come down to the real world’ and put more money towards community assets like affordable housing or a skateboard park.

Officers said these were industry-standard figures, but a special review mechanism was in the council’s response, theoretically allowing them to ask the developers to build affordable homes later down the line if the plans proved more profitable than predicted.

Though no attempts were made at the meeting to send the plans back to the drawing board, the plans committee agreed to review how figures for viability were reached for applications brought forward to the council.

The total value of the development, including the 173 houses and several commercial properties is expected to be £42,598,056.