A Scandal at Brimhay

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There are certain types of places that you believe are safe from developers.  Places that you take for granted will be protected because they always have been – Brimhay in Dartington is such a place.

Its a small area in the heart of Dartington village, which houses eighteen assisted housing bungalows for elderly people.  It was set up by the Elmhirsts and administered by Dartington Hall Trust until they sold it to South Devon Rural.

The bungalows are much beloved by the elderly people who live there, many of whom have been there for over 30 years.  They have small gardens in front, a communal area with benches and a lawn, a little wooded copse full of bats and dormice and a stream.  There is a nursery nearby and the elderly can see the children play in their garden.  Its all rather idyllic and a very valued green space in the centre of Dartington.

Not for much longer.  Taking advantage of the present political will to build and be dammed, South Devon Rural (SDR) have decided to knock down the bungalows and replace them with two, three story blocks of flats.  These flats will have no lift and no gardens and are completely unsuitable for elderly people, who are aghast at the thought.  The gardens and the wood and even the nursery garden will be built over and 12 luxury, for-market houses built.  There’s money to be made and a few old people aren’t going to stop them.

Unbelievably, South Hams District Council (SHDC) have agreed to the plans, whilst DHT are facilitating.  The village is appalled and have rallied round the old people, appealing both to DHT and SHDC to rethink.  A famous architectural designer Bob Tomlinson, who lives in Dartington, has created an alternative plan pro bono.  It leaves the old people in comfortable, small bungalows, saves the wood and the communal space, whilst providing market houses for the housing association, to cover the costs.  Its an addition to the village, a scheme that will enhance the area, rather than destroy it and the Brimhay residents are delighted with it.  SHDC have rejected it out of hand.

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Bob Tomlinson’s plan

I talked to one of the residents there, who did not want to give me her name in fear of reprisals from the housing association.  ‘They’re just playing mind games,’ she said, ‘they want us out.  None of us can cope with stairs and none of us want to move to the flats, but we are being given no choice, they know we will have to move on, they’re reckoning on that.’  I looked around her bungalow, its getting on in age, but she’s been very happy there.  ‘Its all good memories,’ she told me, ‘my husband died here, I’m surrounded by his things, I don’t want to move.’

Is this really the government’s brave new world of housing?  It feels more like the 19th century to me, a time when the powerful and rich could do what they want and the poor were helpless.  The elderly and vulnerable are now fair game in a free for all housing market, which sees profit as the only game in town.

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