Staverton Leat



What: Archimedes Screw on the Dart
Where: Staverton
Why we loved it: An exciting project with encouraging estimated returns, that built on our working relationship with Hydrosense.
Total Installed Capacity: Est. 100 kW
Average Annual Generation: Est. 360,000 kWh
CO2 equivalent per year: 162 tonnes
Customer equivalent per year:  109 families typical use
Est. annual Income to TRESOC: (2% share): £6,000
Total Project Cost: Est. £916,000


Staverton Hydro Community Benefit Society to be dissolved

Between 2014 and 2020 we were co-developing a small-scale 100 kW hydro power plant at Staverton leat in joint venture with Hydrosense, developers of the scheme at Totnes Weir. To do this we set up a separate, project-specific ‘BenCom’: Staverton Hydro Community Benefit Society. Agreements were in place with the Staverton family who own the land where the leat is located and with Dartington Hall Trust, who would have received the electricity generated.

As of 2021, the Staverton Hydro Community Benefit Society is to be dissolved. With generous support from the Rural Community Energy Fund, SHCBS was able to carry out a feasibility study and to prepare and submit a full planning application to the local planning authority for a single hydro turbine on the leat at Town Mills, Staverton. Expert discussion on the Habitat Risk Assessment with the Environment Agency and Natural England in 2019 focused on the conservation status of salmon in the Dart. The conclusion of the EA was that they could only permit abstraction of water during a three month period from January to March to avoid the possibility of damage to migratory salmon and sea trout. This would mean that the financial return from electricity generated could not repay investment in the scheme. Following this decision the TRESOC Board has decided to dissolve the Society and is now in the process of doing so. However, we are grateful to everyone who supported this project for so long and hope it may yet be realised at a later date.

We had confidence in this project because there is an historical precedent—the plant once generated electricity for the Dartington estate in the 1930s (see the story below).  Also, the local developer, Hydrosense, has a successful track record of similar hydro projects which satisfy many stakeholders (Environment Agency, planners, anglers, neighbours and others), and we know the river flow in the Dart offers an excellent opportunity for generation from the work done for the Totnes Weir hydro scheme, and from the data from the very first Archimedes screw turbine in the UK at River Dart Country Park. Co-development of the project also offered a much higher projected rate of return.

In addition to generating electricity from a single Archimedes turbine, the project would have regenerated the leat, which has fallen into disrepair, with a new fish pass and smoult pass to help up- and down-stream migration of river life.

Back in June 2014, TRESOC met with Hydrosense, the landowners, Parish Council members, local residents, representatives from the Environment Agency and the Dart Anglers Association to progress the Staverton Leat hydro project. The meeting was very positive, with all present in favour of the scheme. During the meeting, Julian Sharpe of the Dart Anglers Association said, “I am very, very keen to see this scheme happen, and my beloved fish protected.” A member of the Staverton Leat Working Group said, “This is the best answer to our problems”.

Staverton Hydro Community Benefit Society (SHCBS) was set up by TRESOC specifically to develop the Staverton Hydro project. In June, 2017 a £20,000 grant from the Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF) was awarded to kick start the development of the 100kW hydro power plant at Staverton Leat. SHCBS used the grant to do a feasibility study and part was also used for outreach work to engage the local community. This included a series of August, 2017 Walk & Talks to visit the project site and, the ‘REEL‘ programme piloting at St. Christopher’s School, Staverton.

You can read a press release, as Planning Application was submitted [October, 2018], and the Rural Community Energy Fund’s Feasibility Report [January 2018).

Staverton Leat  |  The History

In June 1930, Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirsts’ daughter Ruth, aged four, flipped a switch and formally started up a new hydro station to bring hydro-electric power up to the Dartington Estate — a J. J. Armfield water turbine installed within Town Mills, near Nappers Crossing at Staverton leat. Town Mills, which was leased from the Church Commissioners by Dartington’s trustees, was previously a corn mill built over Staverton leat.

In those days, electricity to this area was controlled by Torquay Borough Corporation. They had advised the Elmhirsts when they bought the estate in 1925, that the Hall and village were too remote to have a mains supply. With his appreciation of small scale electricity generation, Leonard Elmhirst moved forward with plans to convert Town Mills, into an ‘automatic turbo electricity generator’.

From 1932 to 1942, the plant provided electricity to Staverton Builders, but wartime production proved too demanding. Staverton switched to the mains and the trustees were ready to scrap the plant. However, the estate’s electrician, Frank Christy, was able to make the modifications necessary to overcome the technical obstacles. He also successfully conducted the high diplomacy needed to enable the plant to be run in connection with the Torquay supply.

The plant produced power for forty years via its two turbines (15kW and 35kW). Dartington took the electricity it needed and more if necessary, although by the late 60s the plant was primarily serving the Hall area. In the early 70s, the plant was closed down. Town Mills was bought at auction by Nigel Amherst, a member of staff in the music department at Dartington College of Arts and it remains the private residence of the Amherst family.

(Thanks to the staff of The Totnes Archive, part of Totnes Museum for this information)

Read our two further oral history case-studies, where Tresoc Intern Lawrie speaks to two local families about their Staverton memories and the history of the original leat and turbines.