Residents quiz school over green lung sale

By Ginny Ware   |   Totnes Reporter   |
Sunday 10th July 2022 6:00 am
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SOME 150 townsfolk championed the bid by Totnes Town Council to save a valuable school site from the clutches of housing developers, during an urgent meeting.

The newly formed Why This Field? (WTF?) campaign group staged the event at the civic hall in response to King Edward VI Community College’s plans to sell 14-acres of its site.

Money raised from the sale will help fund vital repairs to the school buildings.

Totnes Town Council has submitted a £2.5million bid to buy the Lower Field – a ‘green lung’ with public access to the River Dart and which consists of the Elmhirst Building and playing fields.

The council has pledged to maintain the field, restore the historic building and retain the site as an asset for the town in perpetuity.

Totnes Mayor, Cllr Emily Price, presented the council’s proposal.

This was followed by a presentation by KEVICC headteacher Alan Salt who said the school must sell several parcels of land to raise money for desperately needed improvements to some of its buildings, said WTF? spokesman, Peter Shearn.

“Mr Salt outlined details of the plan and said the school would approach the Secretary of State for approval,” Peter said.

“There was unanimous agreement in the room that the school has to carry out urgent repairs.

“He said the school could not sell the field to Totnes Town Council in advance of disposing of the rest of the land, because it was important the governing body had all proposals available before making any `decisions.

“Buyers’ bids have to be in by July 22.”

Caroline Voaden, who co-chaired the meeting, said the Lower Field would be the favoured school site for developers, and her question “Why should we do anything in this town that puts more money in the back pockets of developers?” was met with cheers from the audience.

Cheers also followed campaign group founder, Lisa Smallridge’s, plea: “Five generations of my family have spent time in that field and I’m absolutely terrified that my grandchildren might not see the same.

“We just cannot lose it for housing.”

Resident Alice Widger, whose online petition to save the Lower Field now has more than 1,700 signatures, also made an impassioned speech.

“We are rapidly running out of green areas – we live in this beautiful place, but a lot is private land and the field is a green lung in the town.”

Peter said: “School governor Jim Lodge claimed that statutory guidance dictated that the school was obliged to maximise the value it gets from the site, however this was strongly disputed by others in the room who were aware of different and conflicting government guidance.

“The idea of what constitutes ‘best value’ led to protracted discussion as Mr Salt and Mr Lodge seemed set on the idea that it was purely about the highest price.

“South Hams Councillor John Birch questioned the legalities of ownership of the land and who is actually entitled to make the decision to sell. There is clearly more to explore here and satisfactory answers were not forthcoming.”

Caroline Voaden rounded off the meeting with a rallying cry.

“We have a responsibility to ourselves and our future community for our children to play on that field and access that river,” she insisted.

“Totnes is a really special place where we can do things differently – it’s got to be about more than money.”

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