A lobby group fronted by BBC presenter Jonathan Dimbleby has launched a six-month campaign to bring a disused Dairy Crest site in Totnes into community ownership.

Dairy Crest acquired the South Devon site in 2000 and ceased production in 2007, when business from the Totnes dairy was transferred to its site in Taunton. 

The Atmos Totnes project wants to bring the site back into use as a business and community hub, offering affordable housing, space for local businesses and public events, among others. It is calling on Dairy Crest to gift to the local community part of the land belonging to the site as well as a listed building on it, and cease all attempts to sell the site.

It then plans to submit a planning application for the site, which – if approved – would see Dairy Crest receive a “claw-back” of money on each phase of the site’s redevelopment. 

“It has been established now, after four years of Dairy Crest’s attempts to dispose of this site to commercial developers, that the value of this site is not going to be unlocked through a conventional developer-led approach,” the campaigners said on their website, www.atmostotnes.org. “What we propose is a different way of imagining the development of the site, where the community takes the lead, and Dairy Crest are able to realise a financial return from the site over time.”

The campaigners added they had already received plenty of interest from businesses to locate to the site, if it were redeveloped.

Dairy Crest corporate affairs director Arthur Reeves said the company was planning to redevelop its former dairy at Totnes, and was talking to the local community about its plans. “We want to encourage local participation in what happens next, but we have not yet had any concrete proposals from the local community,” he said. “We will consider all serious proposals, but we have to reach a conclusion that is acceptable to everyone who has an interest in our business, including the Totnes community.”

In the meantime, Dairy Crest was doing its best to keep the site safe and in good repair, Reeves added.

The Atmos Totnes project is being run by Transition Town Totnes, and counts Dimbleby as well as local Tory MP Sarah Wollastone as its patrons.