About the Baltic Wharf Cohousing Group
BWCG grew out of the Totnes Cohousing Group, which started in 1996 and has been under the Transition Town Totnes umbrella since 2008. We had an opportunity to be part of the Baltic Wharf development next to the River Dart in Totnes. However, after nearly five years of working with the owners, TQ9, and then their development partners, Bloor Homes, the group has decided to withdraw from the scheme.
The reason for this is, that although we had an undertaking from the owners that our part of the development would be independently valued, the guide prices we have been given by Bloor Homes have risen twice and to such a level that we lost too many members from our group, as they could not afford to buy in at those values. Moreover, the current economic climate makes buying a house 'off plan' as we would have been doing, a very risky undertaking - as we all realised. In our opinion, we doubt that similar houses on the rest of the site would sell at those prices.
In October 2012, at the time we notified TQ9 of our intention to withdraw, we were told of their intention to advertise for other people to form another cohousing group on the site. At the time of writing we have not seen any evidence of this, so we have decided to take down the website.
This would have been the first cohousing in the UK to be part of a commercial housing development, and we hope our experience will be useful to other cohousing groups in the future. Not everyone has access to building land, or development expertise – especially in areas like the South West where there is fierce competition for what little there is. Our experience here has led us to believe that working in a partnership might be possible if the cohousing group were the sole client and if the developer's aims and philosophy were more similar to those of the group. Maybe mainstream housing developers are not yet ready to build what an organised group of clients actually want, instead of what they think we should want!
The cohousing would have comprised 27 homes, of which 5 would have been owned by a housing association for affordable renting and co-ownership to members of the cohousing group. These homes will hopefully still be available as affordable, but the other 22 will become part of the proposed development and the common house will also become 2 or 3 open market houses. The community courtyard at the centre of the cohousing will become a parking area - the cohousing would have had a car club of only 12 cars. The community garden and orchard which would also have been under our care will hopefully be run by other residents.
We are saddened that it has not been possible to make cohousing happen on this site, and would like to thank TQ9 for the opportunity, and also the architects, Stride Treglown, who were very supportive and really 'got' the ideas behind cohousing. In the end, though, we were beaten by the current system for delivering new homes in this country, combined with living in an area with overinflated property prices and a low average wage.
The remnants of the group will be getting involved with other TTT housing initiatives, such as Transition Homes and the Atmos Project. The emergence of a growing number of Community Land Trusts in the past few years, alongside the necessary advice and support needed to set them up, is very encouraging. In our opinion - a better way for community groups to go.