An electricity substation is to be built in a new retirement development in Totnes despite objections from councillors and locals.

Construction on the Brutus Centre site on Fore St has already begun after planning permission was granted in 2021 for over 40 retirement apartments and two retail units.

But on Wednesday (5 October 5) councillors on South Hams District Council’s (SHDC) development management committee  considered a “variation of condition” to allow an electricity substation in the complex’s carpark which was not on the original plans.

Green Party councillor for Dartington and Staverton, Jacqi Hodgson, said she was concerned about the location of the unit.

“This is a conservation area, it’s a very important part of Totnes,” she said.

“I understand about permitted development rights, but it’s not a free for all, is it?”

Permitted rights allow for some structures to be built without going through a formal planning process.

Cllr Hodgson added: “That does mean that they would have to surely come into line, to some extent, with appropriate design and presumably part of that would be appropriate siting.

“I’m just astonished as to where this has been dumped.”

One of the formal objectors to the construction, local resident Isabel Carlisle, asked for the application by Churchill Retirement Living to be deferred pending more information about its potential impact.

Outlining three main requests, Ms Carlisle asked for a site meeting with residents, members of the committee and relevant officers.

In addition, she said: “We request that a health impact assessment is drawn up as mandated in planning law.

“If any electricity substation is to be built, should be to the highest specification in a location away from existing homes.”

Echoing  Cllr Hodgson, Ms Carlisle asked for the siting of the unit to be reconsidered.

“We also request the location of the substation be shifted away from existing homes,” she added.

“There is room on the ground plan to do that again. We request you to press Churchill on that and hold them to account on environmental health grounds and your duty of care to local citizens.”

Later Lib Dem councillor for Ivybridge East and part of Ugborough, Victor Abbott, suggested such units may not be popular but, to some degree, are inevitable.

“I’ve referred to built up areas before in my comparisons,” he said. “I’m used to seeing these boxes here, there and everywhere in urban environments, and they’re sometimes made out of GRP (fibreglass) or sometimes they’re made out of brick. They’re just part of the urban landscape.”

Councillors were also reminded how the electricity company would be allowed to build a substation without encasing it in a brick structure. The current plan is for it to be in brick.

Following debate, councillors applied an additional condition that:

• No works should be undertaken in connection with the provision of the substation or the building to house it until details of the equipment to be installed, including any noise and vibration mitigation, have been submitted to and approved by the local planning authority. The installation shall then be in accordance with the approved details and maintained and retained as such.

During the meeting, a vote to a defer a decision was defeated. At the end, the majority of committee members then agreed to approve the construction of the substation and housing.