The Bowden Pillars regenerative community project was formally unveiled to the public amid hopes new investors will be found to finance the scheme.
More than 200 people packed the civic hall in Totnes last week to hear the project’s leaders explain their plans for the 123 acres of land they have purchased on a hill overlooking Totnes - one of the UK’s most environmentally-conscious towns.
The aim is to build around 40 sustainable homes, with residents growing their own organic crops and much of the surrounding land being replanted to create a 75-acre, wildlife-rich rainforest.
James Shorten, one of the project’s directors, said: “This is the day the project starts going into community ownership. At the moment it’s being funded by loans from local people – this is when we start opening out and involving our community.”
The dwellings at Bowden Pillars will include communal areas and focus on affordability, sustainability and self-sufficiency, with residents sharing electric vehicles, using renewable energy and growing much of their own food (the organically-grown grain will be used by a local mill to supply local businesses).
“This project is unique in planning terms because it’s trying to show what happens when you put people together with a purpose,” added Mr Shorten, who is a planner by profession.
The Devon Wildlife Trust will soon begin planting native species of trees, including sessile oak, willow and alder, to create a temperate rainforest, although it will take many decades to see the end result.
Speaking at the event, environmental activist and writer Rob Hopkins summed up the project’s aspirations by quoting novelist Don DeLillo’s saying that “longing on a large scale is what makes history”.
He said: “If all we do is talk about collapse and extinction, we’re never really going to get to where we need to be to bring alive...the incredible things that we could still create in the future.”
Hopkins, who is not directly involved in Bowden Pillars but spearheaded the similarly-inspired Transition movement, was asked about the feasibility of the project, given that planning permission for the homes has yet to be granted.
“I know from my own experience that organising a share option takes quite a while. They didn’t have the time, so they’ve had to borrow the money. It’s not the ideal way of doing it, but when an opportunity like that comes (to buy the farm) you have to move really quickly,” he said.
Bowden Pillars will now aim to pay off some £800,0000 in loans that were taken to secure the purchase of the land.
Would-be investors will, among other options, be able to purchase shares from £250, with a limit set at £80,000. Significantly, shares can drop in financial value but not go up.
The event coincided with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s controversial decision to water down the Government’s net zero commitments, which will see the sale of petrol and diesel powered cars extended for another five years, until 2035.
Hopkins described the move as “criminally negligent”.
He said: “It is the clearest sign yet that our government has in effect been completely co-opted by oil and gas interests.”