The 10th Dartmoor Society Debate: What Future for the Dartmoor Village?
Featured photo of Speakers and Chairman, l to r: Chas Symes, Robin Hill, Edwina Hill, Dr Tom Greeves, Jenny Sanders, Chris France (photo © Elisabeth Stanbrook)
The way of life for Dartmoor village communities is changing rapidly, as indeed it is for villages throughout the country. Many problems exist; these include the loss of village schools, shops, pubs, petrol stations and post offices, inadequate public transport, lack of affordable housing for the next generation, loss of historically interesting buildings and insensitive development. All these factors are adversely affecting the fabric of village life in the 21st century. What then is the future for Dartmoor villages – with an increasing interest in ‘sustainability’, can villages seize the moment and develop new enterprises and re-establish shops and other facilities, perhaps with some key new housing schemes? Our tenth Debate attempted to examine many of these factors .
Around 80 delegates were welcomed to Walkhampton Memorial Hall by Dr Tom Greeves, Chairman of the Dartmoor Society and Chairman of the Debate on the day. Tom mentioned that this was the first occasion when the Society had used its new PowerPoint presentation equipment, the acquisition having been made possible by a grant from Awards for All.
Tom then introduced the speaker for the first talk, entitled ‘What has been happening to the Dartmoor Village?’ Jenny Sanders was born in Cornwall and grew up in Tavistock, attending the grammar school. She taught French for 12 years, ran a translation agency from 1976 – 1992, then became a translator herself and a Member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting. She is a keen Dartmoor walker, belonging to the ‘Game Birds Group’. Jenny has an extensive interest in local history and wrote Early Dartmoor Farmhouses (Orchard Publications 1998). She is Chairman of The Devonshire Association Buildings Section and a committee member of the Devon Buildings Group.
Jenny began her talk, which was extensively illustrated with many fine images, by defining a village as a centre with a church, pub, shop, school, village hall or community centre and access to the surrounding area. Historically many villages had church houses, which were once the centre of village life. Over the centuries, the population of villages has fluctuated quite considerably. Jenny showed images from five villages illustrating their past and present. Past images from Walkhampton showed the interior of the mill, which ceased business in 1997 and the village shop which closed in 2005. Jenny also showed pictures of Town Farm, set in the heart of the village, before and after careful restoration. In Walkhampton, the current issues of concern are the proposed building of social housing, the loss of the village shop/post office and reduction in bus services.
Whitchurch is a very active village, with a new village hall and a thriving shop, but has no car park for the village hall. There is no longer a rail link, Whitchurch Halt having closed in December 1962. Several other villages mentioned by Jenny once had railway stations close by, but most are long since closed. Traffic in Whitchurch is now a problem, and farm traffic has to tortuously negotiate parked cars. Redrow Homes are currently developing from Tavistock towards Whitchurch on a greenfield site and will include 25 units of social housing.
Jenny said that Peter Tavy, with its Anglican church visible on the hill above the village, also has a very active Methodist chapel. The garage has closed and planning permission is being sought for a cottage on the site. There are quite a few converted barns and farmhouses. The Village Hall has a fayre and activities such as Scottish dancing. The Post Office closed in 1996. The Peter Tavy Inn is very lively.
Lydford has one shop on the main road. Although the petrol pumps have now gone, there has been a recent proposal to reinstate them.
Holne has a custom-built village shop opened in April 2006, which is a very pleasing development. Jenny’s talk revealed the constant process of evolution in the Dartmoor village. Although many villages had lost key services, community spirit seemed strong with much of the social life centred on the village hall.
For a presentation entitled ‘The View from the Parish – issues and ideas’ our next speaker was Chas Symes. Chas was born in Exeter, grew up in Devon, leaving his home county in his early 20s to study for his first degree in Portsmouth. He completed an MA in Criminology in the early 1980s and spent some few years working with mentally disordered offenders. He eventually returned to Devon and has lived in Walkhampton since 1999. His family is associated with the Tavistock area, having moved to Gulworthy before the Second World War.
Chas is currently Chair of Burrator Parish Council, having served on the Finance and General Purposes Committee and chaired the Planning Committee. He made clear that he was speaking in a personal capacity and his views may not necessarily be those held by the Parish Council.
Chas said that Burrator is a grouped parish, ie it covers more than one village, in this case Meavy, Walkhampton and Sheepstor. The parish includes 1,540 residents in 637 households, and its geographical area is 5,945 hectares.
Like other parish councils, Burrator can influence policy and decisions in the following areas:-
Planning War Memorials
Highways Seat and Shelters
Traffic Rights of Way
Community Safety Community Centres
Street Lighting Community Transport
Cemeteries Bathhouses (!)
Regarding bath houses, under a fairly old provision, the parish council has the power to provide these if needed! Street lighting can be contentious, the council having to weigh pedestrian safety at night against the increasing objections to light pollution. The parish does contain some allotments, these being at Walkhampton.
Chas said that the role of the parish council focuses on the following aspects:-
- Management of public funds
- Support for community groups
- Arbitrator between sections of the community
- Promotion of community cohesion
- Communication with outside agencies
In 1999, a Parish Appraisal was carried out. This looked at the following features of the parish:-
- Overnight Tourism
- Environmental Protection
- Countryside Protection
Aside from the fact that most people did not appear to want change, the most notable outcome was that 87% of respondents said they wanted a village shop.
Communication between the parish council and the local community is carried out through the parish clerk, the parish website, a parish magazine (the Burrator Beacon) and noticeboards.
Walkhampton community groups are autonomous; some receive financial support from the parish. Some groups include individual councillors among their membership.
Chas wondered whose agenda would predominate in the future affairs of the parish, and said that apathy is always a problem. Those who wanted a quiet, peaceful and traditional setting for their parish might have to put up with the fact that with this came a risk of having no shop, no pub and no community.
Our third speaker, on the subject ‘The New Planning Framework’, was Chris France, who is Director of Planning & Sustainable Development for the Dartmoor National Park Authority. He has been in this job since April 2006, after a variety of planning posts held at Exmoor National Park since 1987. Married with two children, he currently lives in Tiverton, but was born and brought up in rural Yorkshire. A passion for National Parks and wild places took hold early on and most of Chris’s leisure time is spent either hill walking or climbing in Britain and more latterly in the French Alps.
Chris said that the topic of the day is currently one of the most serious issues facing the National Park. There are two main statutory purposes for a National Park, as laid down in the Environment Act 1995. These are:-
Conservation and enhancement of natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage
Promotion of opportunities for public enjoyment and understanding of special qualities
The Act recognises the vital importance of cultural heritage, given that national parks [of which there are 15 in Britain] are the result of human activity and are not wildernesses.
The National Park has a duty to foster social and economic development in partnership with others, but significantly does not have a direct responsibility in this area.
Chris listed the principal changes that have taken place in the social structure and fabric of communities:-
- Greater mobility – travel to work/shops/services/schools
- Ageing population and outward migration of young people
- In-migration, especially from SE England – retired/life style/second homes
- House prices
- Loss of local employment
- Loss of village shops and services
These factors are bringing about changes in the population structure and household size in the Dartmoor National Park:-
- Dartmoor’s age profile shows a lower proportion of people aged 16 to 29 and a higher proportion of people aged 45 to 84 than the national average.
- There is a steadily decreasing proportion of young people and increasing proportion of older people within the National Park. In 2001, 28% of Dartmoor’s population was aged under 29 years. In 1991 it was 32%.
There has been a substantial reduction in average household size in DNPA, from 1981 [2.65] to 1991 [2.48] and 2001 [2.29].
Average house prices have increased dramatically to a critical level
Between 2001 and 2002, there was a 28% rise in house prices in the Dartmoor National Park. In 2004, the average house price was £200,000 and now it is nearly £250,000. In 1996, the house price:income ratio was 1:9, but in 2005 it was 1:17.
At the same time, many village services and facilities have been lost, although there have been some replacements; for example:
- Loss of petrol stations at Horrabridge, Moretonhampstead, Princetown and South Brent, Christow and Mary Tavy, amongst others.
- New (replacement) schools in Moretonhampstead, South Brent and Horrabridge.
- Loss of last village shop in Bridford, Hennock and Poundsgate (amongst others), and loss then replacement of shop in Holne
A major new planning framework was introduced with the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, the principle changes being:-
- Structure Plans were replaced by Regional Spatial Strategies
- Local Plans were replaced by Local Development Frameworks
- Supplementary Planning Guidance was replaced by Supplementary Planning Documents
- Guidance on Regional Planning and Planning Policy were replaced by Planning Policy Statements
The Regional Spatial Strategy for the South West has been formulated for the next 20 years by the South West Regional Assembly. This covers the biggest region in the country, stretching from the Scilly Isles to Tewkesbury and containing 5 million people.
The Local Development Frameworks cover the areas administered by the district councils and the National Parks.
The DNPA Core Strategy includes the following planning policies:-
1) Housing Policies : All new housing within 33 rural settlements will be slowed as housing is limited to meet local affordable housing needs.
2) Employment Policies : i) Support for new business premises and conversions within settlements; ii) Resist loss of existing business sites & premises.
3) Services : Resist loss (change of use) of existing community services.
Planning policies can enable or prevent development, but cannot provide the overall solution to more complex changes in society. Chris said that, consequently, planners are moving away from a ‘tickbox’ mentality and it is now most important that they listen more to local communities. If there is a conflict between the National Park’s purposes of conservation on the one hand and enjoyment by the public on the other, then conservation has to be given priority.
Gill Gray (Holne) said that she chairs the affordable housing group of Holne and Michelcombe Parish Council. She said that Holne is a very active, unspoilt village, with a new shop which is wanted and used by local residents. She also mentioned that grants are available for communities to take over village shops.
Judy Ehlen (Haytor Vale) asked what the definitions were for social and affordable housing. Chris France replied that social housing is rented from a registered social landlord and replaces what used to be called council housing. Affordable housing enables tenants to spend 30% or less of their total monthly household incomes for rent or homeowners to spend 28% or less of their total income on mortgage repayments, property taxes and insurance. Chris added that house prices could be reduced by such actions as limiting house size, limiting occupants to local people and restricting rents.
Mark Bailey (Bovey Tracey) asked what determined local housing need. Chris France said that the DNPA measured need in several ways, such as the housing register, the housing market assessment and a housing needs survey at parish level. The latter asks detailed questions about the parish population and gives a best available ‘snapshot’. Mark Bailey then asked how need is balanced with local infrastructure, to which Chris replied that an assessment of current infrastructure is carried out at the plan-making stage.
Chris Meathrel (Kingsteignton) commented that, in South Brent, overspill population from Plymouth has changed the social characteristics of the village. Philip Ward-Green (South Brent Action Group and Devon Conservation Forum) said that, if social housing is all put in one place, communities might be divided. Moreover, in South Brent, there are a number of houses for sale, but they are too expensive for local people. It would be good if money could be found to buy and use these homes for local needs, rather than building new ones.
Karen Eberhardt-Shelton (Drewsteignton) wondered how it was possible to maintain tradition in a village while allowing new houses to be built. With a projected population increase of 750,000 in the South West, it is hard to understand where the extra people were coming from.
Veronica Chesher said that churches are often located away from houses in villages in Devon and especially in Cornwall. This is because villages had tended to grow from a meeting of roads or the provision of industry or services. It is essential for a village to have some sort of reason for growth. The central core of a village was historically the indigenous population but, with outsiders coming in, there is a need to address the divisions that inevitably arise.
Colin Jones (South Hams District Councillor for Holne) commented that Chris France had mentioned so-called ‘key workers’, such as teachers, policemen and firemen, as typical village residents. However, such workers tend to be better paid than the farmers, farm workers and forestry workers. Yet the latter group has stronger justification for living close to their work and there needs to be proper recognition of the importance of rural workers. Chris France pointed out that even better paid people have to take a first step on to the housing ladder.
Jonathan Aylett (Ogwell Cross and Dartmoor Society Committee) asked what the DNPA had done about villages that wanted to be de-classified from selected ‘Rural Settlement’ status [Editor’s note: in the Dartmoor National Park Local Development Framework Core Strategy Policy COR2, this status is accorded to 33 settlements. These have been identified as suitable for small scale development to meet social needs, particularly affordable housing.] Chris France said the authority had debated this at great length for two villages and considered the views of local people. There has to be criterion-based evidence – and the DNPA’s Core Strategy would be subject to Examination in Public. Tom Greeves drew attention to the fact that the Planning Inspector who is to hold an Exploratory Meeting on the Core Strategy on 10 October had commented that ‘there appears to be no clear evidence to support the selection of…the 33 Rural Settlements’.
Quentin Morgan-Edwards (Sampford Courtenay) was concerned that often, when the public were consulted about proposals, final decisions appeared to take no notice of their views. However, Terry Pearse (Mary Tavy) quoted a case where the parish council had consulted the public about the use of a contaminated site in Mary Tavy, and the ideas generated had in fact been taken on board by the DNPA. Chas Symes said that one concern is the imposition of ideas on a community from outside. He believed that DNPA should listen to the public, but it is often difficult for people to participate in consultation if they work full time, and thus consultation is not always successful.
Julian Tope (Manaton Parish Councillor) said that the cultural landscape of Dartmoor had developed over 2,000 years. In Jenny Sanders’ two slides of Walkhampton Church, taken in 1911 and 2007, the views were much the same, apart from the hedges and trees. He therefore wondered what it is we are trying to preserve and whether we are in fact trying to fossilise villages.
Tom Greeves said that villages are continually changing, and had done so markedly in the past 100 years. When the Dartmoor Society was planning this Debate, Tom had considered how the changes on Dartmoor might be quantified. He had contacted both the Community Council of Devon and the DNPA for statistics about the loss of village facilities, but none were available. The Dartmoor Society believes that it is essential for research to be carried out and reliable data to be obtained.
Tom also made the point that the DNPA’s Core Strategy document contains much data that is relevant to housing provision within the National Park. Between 2001 and 2006, 449 dwellings were built, of which 126 were affordable dwellings for local residents. There were 229 dwellings under construction in March 2006. At this same date, there were 301 unimplemented planning permissions (31 being affordable dwellings for local needs). The total provision at March 2006 was therefore 979 dwellings, whereas the Devon Structure Plan 2001-2016 has an indicative provision of 900 dwellings. Thus too many houses have already been built in the National Park – there are 10 years still to run of this Plan, yet already the provision has been exceeded by 79.
This concluded the morning discussion and the Debate adjourned for lunch. Afterwards delegates were led in three groups by Sue Andrew, Tom Greeves and Jenny Sanders around Walkhampton to view the buildings old and new, former business premises and potential development sites.
After the walk, Derelie D’Oyly spoke to delegates about a parish map created to celebrate the Millennium. Designed by Derelie and her husband Michael, the stitched wool hanging was worked by a team of at least twenty people. It measures five feet by four feet and has a central panel showing a map of the parish surrounded by 24 smaller panels. These portray historic buildings such as the parish church and church house and also the newer housing. Every child attending Lady Modiford’s School contributed a stitch to the panel which depicts its buildings. Other panels are worked with farm animals and wildlife. There is one anachronism – a small train in Great Western livery running along the railway line between Yelverton and Princetown. This line closed in 1956. The map itself is a valuable record of Walkhampton in the year 2000. Importantly, it contains information on what local people value about their place and how they have chosen to represent its distinctive character.
The Debate resumed after lunch and Tom Greeves introduced Edwina and Robin Hill for their talk, entitled ‘The Belstone Green Village Project’. They came with their two young sons to live in Belstone, on the northern edge of Dartmoor, 28 years ago. Since then they have been very much involved in village life, serving on several committees and participating in many plays and pantomimes. Having retired from teaching a year ago, they now have more time to devote to countryside and environmental issues and so have become involved in the “Green Village”.
Edwina and Robin introduced their talk by saying that The Belstone Green Village Initiative aims to provide opportunities and resources for Belstone to become a greener and more sustainable village, now and in the future. The initiative was run by a steering group comprising:-
- Oz Osborne – WestDen (a charity promoting sustainability in rural communities)
- Olya Maiboroda (Researcher, University of Plymouth Centre for Sustainable Futures)
- Dr Colin Trier (Fellow, Centre for Sustainable Futures, University of Plymouth)
- Eight Belstone villagers
A partnership agreement was formed with Westden as facilitator and coordinator of the process, villagers as key owners and decision makers and the University as the monitor of and contributor to the process through research and expertise.
The first stage in the project was to send a questionnaire to Belstone residents. 111 questionnaires were distributed and 58 (52%) responses were received. Some of the main results were:-
The aspects most valued about Belstone fell into the following categories: –
- Friendly community
- Closeness of the moor
- Beautiful surroundings
- Clean air
The survey confirmed that the Belstone community is highly dependent on the car for shopping, travel to work and, to a lesser degree, holidays. The school bus service is seen as effective. People attempted to reduce the amount of energy used by careful planning of car use, opting to walk instead, choosing a fuel-efficient vehicle and, in only very few cases, car sharing. Travel to work is up to 10 miles for most respondents.
Most food shopping is done at Okehampton supermarkets. Other shopping takes place predominantly in Exeter, Okehampton and Chagford. Shopping choices revealed that people prefer to buy locally grown food, with minimum packaging. Organic, fair-trade, and shopping with sustainability in mind are practised by a smaller number of people.
Over 40% of the respondents participate in conservation activities around the village through care for wildlife and nature. Many have a bird, bat or other wildlife box and a wildlife area in their garden, at the same time, avoiding using peat, pesticides and non-organic fertilisers. Fewer than half of the respondents grow some of their own food.
Most respondents said they conserved water by using the economy setting on washing machines, a shower rather than a bath, and a water butt in the garden. A smaller number also have a water saving device in the toilet cistern. Nearly all respondents recycle their waste, and a high number also compost their waste.
Many households in Belstone have entered the age of electronic communication; however, about a third of the respondents do not have access to the Internet.
Of the 21 young people (under 18) who responded, 95% of them like living in Belstone and appreciate the peace and quiet of the surroundings and the close proximity of the moor. On the other hand, they find Belstone limiting for young people, too secluded, with not enough to do. These same young people thought that the village needs:-
A shop A playground
More buses Mini park
Someone to organise a youth club Social life for youth
More events for children A football pitch
More entertainment A more frequent village fayre
Flat land to play games Table tennis club in village hall
Suggestions from respondents for action towards sustainability included organising central ordering online, micro-energy systems, a small local plastics recycling facility, a collection point for other waste items, a produce show to encourage vegetable growing, a local shop/post office and a forum for learning about what is happening or is needed in the village.
Project activities to date
Village Questionnaire Youth Group set up
Parish Biodiversity Audit Young persons’ film group set up
Viewing of the film The End of Suburbia Sharing the Green Village process with others
Green Village Newsletter initiated 1940s wartime lunch
Recycling talk (West Devon) Time Capsule
Bring and share lunch Feasibility study for hydro project
Local food day/lunch Study visit to Forest Garden in Dartington
Green Village library set up in village hall Interviews with other parties
Household Energy Audit Climate Change and Wildlife talk
Website developed Village visit to Old Walls Hydro Project
Bring and share lunch Visits to village gardens
Lessons Learned from the Project
- To engage as many people as possible in the process of change, it is essential to prepare with sufficient time and resources.
- The project name can have a significant impact on the number of people who respond.
- The project timetable should be flexible to allow a proper response to what emerges.
- A newsletter or website should be established early in the project, with messages attuned to different groups.
- For most people, change towards more sustainable living will be a slow process, especially in a community with relative economic stability and a comfortable existence.
- It is worth investing extra time in person-to-person contact when doing surveys or other project activities.
- It is important to listen to the views of the young people and give them opportunities to engage with the project.
Where Next . . . ?
Newsletter to become a more general village publication
The Green Village concept needs to be part of village life
Arrange a Climate Change Exhibition
Dartmoor National Park Exhibit in November 2007
Encourage growing of vegetables and swapping of seeds and plants
Develop the initial biodiversity audit
Hydro Project to be further investigated
Continue to develop: –
Link with Tamwed – a charity supporting communities in South India
Tom Greeves said that this part of the discussion would focus on what should be done in the future. He invited Dr Colin Trier [Centre for Sustainable Futures, University of Plymouth and Steering Committee member, Belstone Green Village Project] to add his comments. Colin said that it had been a real revelation to realise that the community itself is the most important element in a sustainable future, the village hall being central to community initiatives. He felt that the DNPA has a role to play in a sustainable future for Dartmoor villages by encouraging small scale technologies, such as wind power and hydro power.
Roger Paul (Throwleigh) asked if the water from the former Taw Marsh water supply boreholes could be used for a hydro project. Tom Greeves replied that the pumps at Taw Marsh are no longer in use and, even if they were available, the energy so used would negate the benefit of hydro power. Robin Hill, in answer to a question by Helen Morgan-Edwards (Sampford Courtenay), confirmed that the water proposed to be used in the Belstone hydro power project would be returned to the River Taw.
Philip Ward-Green (South Brent Action Group and Devon Conservation Forum) asked whether the project has had any contact with other groups with similar aims. Robin Hill confirmed that they have, and that in fact a very substantial number of initiatives are in hand elsewhere in the country. Gill Gray (Holne) added that there is a parish planning process co-ordinated by the Community Council of Devon, with grants available from Defra to carry out project appraisals.
Colin Jones (South Hams District Councillor for Holne) wondered if, in some cases, village shops have been deliberately allowed by the owners to be run down and closed, in order to obtain change of use planning permission. Anyone attempting to set up a village shop should realise that the residents do not owe them a living. There is a need for shop owners to operate in a professional manner, find out what people wanted and to show flair and imagination. There is also an issue with opening hours; those running shops should try different ways to attract customers, eg by carrying out surveys and talking to residents. Tom Greeves added that some shops are not helped by government decisions and wondered whether in fact we have an ethical responsibility to support our local shops.
Alexa Mason (Lustleigh) said that her village shop is owned by a consortium of villagers. The tenants take profits for themselves, and do everything possible yet still cannot make the business viable. If every household spent £10 per week in the village shop, it would be successful. Jenny Sanders said that the shop in Whitchurch opens from 6am to 6pm (lottery days to 7pm) from Monday to Saturday, and on Sunday mornings from 6am until 12 noon. Alison Hunt (Haytor) mentioned that Ilsington has a fine village shop, but it would be better if they extended their opening hours. Sue Burkhill (Shaugh Prior) said that a local farm runs a farm shop at the back of the village hall, a unique selling point. Mollie Fillingham (Corscombe) stated that the local shop in South Zeal is doing very well, but one should not expect shopkeepers to have to work a 12-hour day. Helen Rowett (Dousland) endorsed this point.
Tom Greeves came back to Chris France’s point that DNPA does not have a direct responsibility for economic development on Dartmoor. Councillor Alan Hosking (DNPA Member) said that the National Park’s responsibility is reactive rather than proactive. Diana Moyse (DNPA Member) said that, if DNPA did have a direct responsibility, there would be a risk of two bodies trying to achieve the same objective. Tom Greeves suggested that, as the DNPA did not have the full responsibilities of a district council, it may not be as effective. Peter Flick (Sticklepath) wondered whether the government should consider making National Parks separate district authorities.
Tom Greeves said that we have to prepare for significant changes. Many external influences are coming to bear on Dartmoor villages, notably the proposed huge increase in population in the South West. From this Debate, we could encourage the DNPA to gather examples of best practice in communities; these are needed to provide good data and to spur us all on.
Peter Mason (Lustleigh) stated that the discussion had referred to the importance of the village hall in bringing communities together. He mentioned Villages in Action, a Devon-based rural touring scheme that helps to bring top quality professional performances to communities at affordable prices. This in turn provides a means of getting local people together and at the same time might make a little money for the hall.
Bridget Cole asked whether in fact we are our own worst enemies. We want all these improvements, but everyone objects – a ‘not in my back yard’ attitude. How could villages be a success if there is no employment? There was no hope of economic development in villages as small businesses could not survive. We have to change our attitudes.
Mark Bailey (Bovey Tracey) quoted Mahatma Gandhi: ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’, and added that it is all very well wanting change, but you have to have the confidence to be the change.
Tom Greeves ended the Debate by saying that there is a terrific body of ideas and interests in Dartmoor communities. He was extremely grateful to all the speakers for their input and to delegates for coming to the Debate and contributing to the discussion. He thanked Bill and Sue Andrew warmly for masterminding the new PowerPoint equipment and for organising the village walk. He also thanked Margaret Allin (of the Victorian Pantry, Okehampton) and her helpers for the fine lunch and refreshments they had provided.