The Staverton Hydro Community Benefit Society (SHCBS) will be welcoming residents of Staverton Parish and TRESOC members to an update meeting on progress with the Staverton Hydro Project from 7-9pm on Wednesday 31st July at The Courtroom, Staverton.
Although the opportunity to pre-register for FIT payments has now passed there are other routes to realisation of the project in the near term and the SHCBS Board wishes to consult with the local community before taking a decision on how best to proceed. The Staverton Hydro Project is still in the planning process, pending a decision from the Environment Agency on whether to approve the Project. TRESOC and the Fishtek consortium are working closely with the EA on the Reports and Studies required to address concerns raised and we are encouraged by a suggestion from the Agency to work with SHCBS on a profit sharing basis to realise this.
The evening will consist of a short presentation on the current state of play, followed by a discussion where we would like to hear views on the options available for making further progress.
Planning Submitted to Restore Hydro Power to Town Mills, Staverton Leat
On the 10th October Staverton Hydro Community Benefit Society [SHCBS] submitted a planning application to South Hams District Council to install a 100 kW Hydro Turbine on the Leat at Staverton. The Lease and Option Agreement has now been signed with the landowners. An application has been made to Historic England for changes to a ‘scheduled ancient monument,’ in order to pass the HV electrical cable under the river bed to Dartington, where a dear park pale is known to be located. The pale is the foundation of the dear park wall, that is thought to have been washed away in a flood and moved to its current location, under the bed of the river. We hope to submit the abstraction licence application in November.
SHCBS was awarded a grant of £20,000 from the Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF) to kickstart the development of a 100kW hydro power plant at Staverton Leat. SHCBS used the grant to carry out a feasibility study and look at the potential of the new hydro scheme on the River Dart to supply electricity to the Dartington Hall Trust Estate. The study included financial modeling to determine the economics of the scheme and environmental monitoring to assess potential impacts. It was concluded that the scheme would be economically viable at a flow rate that was environmentally sensitive.
The Fisheries Impact Assessment concluded that steps can be taken to mitigate all impacts of the scheme on habitat quality. It recommended that a best practice Larinier super-active baffle pass be installed to improve fish and eel passage at the site. The National Rivers Authority deemed the existing fish pass to be far from best practice, only being passable during periods of high discharge. It is more likely that migrating fish pass via the breach in the weir. During the construction of the new fish pass works will be undertaken to repair the damaged weir wall, thus stabilising the river bed above the weir. The migration of salmon and sea trout to upstream spawning grounds has been the key factor influencing the choice of technology at the Leat. Extensive research has demonstrated that fish can pass entirely unharmed through the slowly rotating Archimedes screw turbine, in use at Totnes Weir. Thus, an Archimedes Screw Turbine at the Leat is the obvious choice.
Once the project was deemed economically viable and environmentally sensitive, SHCBS took out a non-recourse loan of £55k, also with RCEF, to fund the development work needed for planning permission and financial closure. The studies included: A Wildlife Report; A structural survey of the leat; A Heritage Statement; A Flood Risk Assessment; Noise Impact Assessment; Landscape and Visual Impact Appraisal; A tree/hedge survey; and, an Archaeology Study. The proposed hydro plant is located in an environmentally sensitive area. The environmental sensitivity of the area is recognised in the studies, with the wildlife report concluding that the development and operation of the scheme would have a low environmental impact due to the design of the plant. Planning permission for the scheme was submitted on the 10th October 2018 and, subject to this SHCBS intends to launch a share and/or bond offer in April/May next year, with construction starting in June/July. Residents of Staverton Parish and members of TRESOC will be given the first opportunity to invest in the scheme, to ensure local community ownership.
Through 10th September to the 5th October, The Charity Bank is running a Follow The Money campaign [#FollowTheMoney]. Tresoc were delighted to be invited to be a part of this, meeting up with the Charity Bank on the first day of their campaign on a visit to Totnes.
As you may already be aware, The Charity Bank provided a loan to Tresoc during a crucial stage of the society’s development, allowing the solar installation at Hatchlands Farm to get underway and for our solar portfolio to expand. Charity Bank are profiling us in a national campaign to show how Tresoc have developed into a thriving local renewable energy society, with all the benefits this brings to our community.
Read more about how this timely intervention helped Tresoc, with words from our Executive Director, Ian Bright, on the Follow The Money Campaign website.
Thank you to local Tresoc members who were able to turn up and be a part of this occasion.
The 3rd Annual Archimedes Screw Fest
Event date: 6th October 2018
Join us to celebrate the River Dart and its most spectacular new landmark – the twin turbines of the Totnes Weir hydropower scheme.
We’ll be celebrating the many ways we all care for the River Dart – we support clean energy, make art, write poetry, stop plastic getting in to it, learn about biodiversity, become citizen scientists, notice problems, track and log wildlife, swim, boat and fish considerately…
Rain or shine there’ll be loads of fun activities going on all day …
- Turbine Tours at 12 noon and 3pm
- Eureka! Meet Archimedes in person
- Citizen Science and rivers bugs with Westcountry Rivers Trust
- Renewable energy technology workshops for primary children with REEL
- Join in with the “Plastic Free Salmon” art project
- Find out about Bio-Regional Learning Centre’s pilot Dart Charter on the Dartington Estate
- Learn about more community energy investment opportunities from TRESOC
- Yummy arancini (Archimedes favourite snack) from The Kitchen Table
The Screw Fest is Tour Stop #4 on Transition Town Totnes’ Eco Homes Weekend trail.
How to get there
The site is accessible via foot- and cycle-path from Totnes to Dartington – it’s about half a mile upstream of Totnes town centre. It’s a lovely easy walk on flat ground. No parking nearby.
Hope to see you …
The TRESOC Team.
We were overwhelmed by the support for the transition to a permanently open share-offer. We received 120 ‘yes’ votes and no ‘no’ votes. Voting closed on Saturday 1st September.
A move to a permanently open share-offer would give our members quicker access to their money, by removing the 3 year minimum investment period, and enable us to accept new members at any time – bringing in cash to develop new projects as they arise and more projects being installed.
Co-operatives UK have launched a Share-Booster programme to encourage best practice and innovation in the community shares market. Most community share-offers are time-bound, for example, standard practice is to hold the investment for a minimum of 3 years with a notice period of 180 days. The Co-op believe that established societies should ideally be making open offers, as a principal way of maintaining membership and share liquidity. And we believe it’s time for Tresoc to innovate in this way too.
Changing the society rules requires a significant amount of legal work. Co-operatives UK are currently providing grants of up to £10k to do this and launch new open-share offers. We’ve already applied for the grant which has been provisionally awarded. However, in order to draw down the money we need to provide the signed heads of terms agreements for the new solar installations we are proposing. So it is all taking much longer than we anticipated, and the ‘spring solar share offer’ that became the ‘summer solar share-offer’, might even become the ‘autumn solar share-offer’. However, it is well worth waiting for because it will now include more roof top solar pv on community buildings and the re-financing of the Charity Bank loan (that we took out to purchase the 50kW Hatchlands Array).
A move to a permanently open share-offer and to make these beneficial changes to the society rules required a member vote. For it to be valid, we needed a quorum, which was 50 people.
A collection of oral histories was gathered over the summer of 2017 by Tresoc intern, Lawrie Swinnen-Styles. Here are two personal accounts from two local families: the Amhersts who currently live in the old mill house and where the proposed new archimedes turbines will be located; plus local businessman Richard O’Connell, whose family have lived in the area for a few generations, right back to when the original leat and turbine were constructed by the Elmhirsts. It’s a fascinating snapshot into the past, that we are delighted and priviledged to record.
The Amherst Family.
What do you know about the original building of the turbines in 1929?
Well, it was quite a complex process, because they had to add a length to the millhouse in order to house the turbines. We’ve converted the turbine house into a sort of hall, and you can still see bits of I-beam jutting out of the walls where they used to have hoists. From the outside of the building, you can also see some original archway stones which have now been blocked up.
When the Elmhirsts renovated Dartington Hall, they rented Staverton Bridge Mill to house their workforce, and similarly hired this building to house the turbines, and the hydro project was built not very long after the Elmhirsts started on the Hall.
I never heard why it was they closed the turbines down, but I can only assume it was too expensive to recondition it. I don’t think they even explored renewing it when it was due for closure. The Elmhirsts had leased rather than bought the Staverton Bridge Mill and this building from the Church commissioners, and all they had to do was wind up the leases, and the Church commissioners sold them. The Dartington Trustees weren’t involved in the sale at all.
So when did the turbine stop?
Around 1970. There’s a plaque outside the wheelhouse that gives the dates, 1929-1970
And when did you move into the house?
- I’d worked at Dartington- we were on the estate there for 13 years before we came here. All the time we’d lived there, we never actually found this place. I think we might have known of it, but we didn’t have occasion to come to Staverton often.
Do you know who lived here beforehand?
This was the miller’s house- quite a modest house, and the chap who lived here at the time was an employee of Dartington. He used to work for the estate stores, and drive the estate lorry, and he had a wife and children, and he kept an eye on the hydro. Norman Caunter. We used to meet him at the Dartington Estate Christmas dinner. Very nice man, clearly very sad to move out.
Was the turbine still installed when you moved in, even though it wasn’t running?
Not when we actually got here. They’d been here a week or two before the house auction and taken all the stuff out. But there was still a lot of evidence of it. The hall from where the turbine was originally operated was covered in manhole covers. The turbines were lowered through the floor of that room, and we now have a clear cover where one of the manhole covers used to be, so you can see down into the leat.
What was the condition of the leat when you moved in?
There was nothing growing in it, and there was a modest flow coming through, which was very attractive. It was like two little streams; no weeds or anything. We had our four children living with us then, and they loved it. We had a little plastic boat, and they could row that up the leat to the sluice gates. We had boards made by a local sawmill, and put them in the slots under the house in order to raise the depth to about four feet.
Do you know who has had control of the sluice gate over the time that you’ve been living here?
Well when we first came, there was a thing called the River Authority, and there were two gentlemen who were responsible for the maintenance- keeping an eye on the whole of the River Dart, source to sea. They visited us after we’d been here a week or two, and they were very experienced men. One of them was very keen on fishing, and he seemed quite keen to set up something to develop the salmon population, though nothing really came of that. They used to come every couple of months I suppose, and we had inherited the handle that worked the sluice gates. So they came and borrowed that and would give the leat a flush every now and again; open the gates wide for two or three hours, and then they’d come back and shut them again. They were two really lovely chaps.
And then the River Authority was closed down, and their responsibility was passed to the Environment Agency, and from that moment, we didn’t really see anybody. When one of the uprights at the sluice was broken off – about a foot of it- the length of pipe that had broken off sat on the grass for many months, perhaps a couple of years. The Environment Agency would occasionally send someone to cast a brief eye over things, but they didn’t really take any interest or do anything at all.
So that went on for about 15 years. Then, around 1990, the Environment Agency appointed a new head of rivers and water. After he’d been appointed a year or so, he came and said “there’s so much water coming down here, it’s affecting the fishing, and I’m going to cut it down,” and he spent many hundreds of pounds building apparatus to control the flow and stop our use of the handle. Within a few days of cutting the- already tiny- flow of water in the leat, there were weeds beginning to grow throughout the entire length of the leat. Within weeks it was full of weeds, and within months it was like it is now, feet high. And the amount of water that they saved must have been negligible.
What about flooding in the leat?
Well we have had floods several feet high, up to the railway line. Not often, but enough to worry about. There was one occasion when there was a flood brewing, and the water level in the leat was so low- negligible- that when the flood built up, it came out over the river bank, and a wave 2 feet high came pouring across the garden and took down an 8 foot length of leat wall, which was the original mill wall from a couple of hundred years ago. I saw it happen. It was 11am, and I went out because I thought there was likely to be a flood, and this huge wave just crashed over the garden and poured into the empty leat. If the leat had had reasonable flow in it, not only might the flood have been relieved somewhat, but the overpouring of the water wouldn’t have destroyed the wall.
How frequently does flooding happen?
Well it depends on your definition I suppose, but for flooding bad enough to rise over the river banks and flow onto our tarmac, I would say between one and three times a year.
It’s been in the house three or four times since we’ve lived here. The worst occasion flooded the house 18 inches deep.
During one of the floods, two local young men came down the river in a canoe. What’s the story behind that?
That was during the worst flood, in the 70’s, and our youngest daughter was then about 12. Ann’s mother and brother managed to get to the main house from the small apartment where her mother lived, but our daughter made it out of the small top window of the apartment, and onto a passing canoe, rowed by two local young men. There was probably a less exciting way to get her out of the apartment, but then again the overflowing river was moving at quite a considerable speed.
There was a farmer’s horse living in our field at the time of the flood, and we thought the horse would have panicked and drowned, because nobody managed to rescue it. But the next morning, there was the horse, walking safely on the railway line. It must have made its way up to safety during the night.
Just outside our house, there’s a 10 foot farm gate to the field, and that came off its hinges during the flood, and was found in Littlehempston, three or four miles down the railway, when the flood subsided.
Did you ever have any warning of floods beforehand?
There used to be a flood warning by telephone, though we weren’t warned very far in advance. I think the Environment Agency has improved its flood warnings since then.
When did you build the wall at the bottom of the leat?
Around 20 years ago. My idea was the if we had a wall across there around 7 foot high with a small escape for the water, the water level would rise to almost the level of the adjoining land, and in the summer it would make a wonderful swimming pool. But it didn’t work because the head of water at the Environment Agency at the time insisted on some questionable things. For instance, having a fish ladder up to that wall so that any odd fish that wanted to come up the leat could get over it. The fact that they would then get stuck in the sluice was something that she did not seem to consider. At one time the water was just deep enough to swim up the leat, but eventually our plans for a pool were thwarted.
That wall is only made out of sandbags really, so it will be very little work to knock down.
And finally, how do you feel about the plans of Tresoc to renew the leat and rebuild a turbine?
I’m delighted. It was a very long time ago that the original turbine was built, and it’s good to think the whole idea will be brought back. We’re very happy to feel the leat is actually going to be used again. I have every faith that if Tresoc and Fishtek say it’s possible and financially viable, it will get built.
My father was John O’Connell, born on the 24th June 1900 in Limerick, Ireland. He landed at Liverpool in 1920 to escape what was becoming a rather ‘confused’ political situation in Ireland. He worked then in the construction industry until the mid 1920’s when there was a recession, when he took a job working on a farm in Sheffield. When the recession ended he started working for a civil engineering company in Sheffield and was sent to Paignton to work on the gasometer site which was being built on the seafront between Torquay and Paignton. He then moved on to Staverton Leat where they camped in the fields. There used to be regular winter floods which came up and washed the camp away together with the wooden casting forms for the concrete. They had to go to Totnes to recover them from the river. According to my mother, there were a couple of brothers called McCarthy in the construction gang who were constant trouble makers and tried to discredit my father to her. One day when she walked out of the house my father had one of the McCarthys by the neck and was holding him over the leat bridge.
My gran was Mrs Napper, who the train crossing is named after. It was her job to open and close the level crossing gates. When the area was flooded she had to use two chairs to get across and back from the gates. The bottom half of the house had been abandoned many years before she moved there because of the constant flooding. My mother used to catch eels in the leat using a nylon stocking with some chicken offal inside. My mother (Ethel Napper) married my father (John O’Connell) on the 19th June 1937 at Totnes Catholic church. After they married they lived at number 7 Broompark where he worked as a carpenter for Dartington Hall. In 1949 they left Broompark and bought a small farm near Aveton Gifford.
Pictured: Photo 1: John and Ethel O’Connell, 1937. Photo 2: Ethel Napper on a horse at the railway crossing, 1933.
Thank you, to both the Amhersts and Richard O’Connell for providing their time and fascinating accounts.