Dartmouth and neighbouring residents have given a resounding ‘thumbs up’ to a community bid to buy the former site of Dartmouth Hospital.

The results of a resident’s survey, conducted by Healthwatch, were presented at Dartmouth Town Council’s full meeting this week.

Councillors and members of the public heard how a massive 85 per cent of respondents approved the town council plans to acquire the site for community use, including the option of lower cost housing for key workers.

Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, which is preparing to sell the site, and Dartmouth Town Council are working together to explore whether the community can buy the former Dartmouth Hospital site, and whether its redevelopment could include uses specifically to benefit people in and around Dartmouth.

The results of the Healthwatch survey show an 85 per cent approval rating for a community bid to acquire the site of the former cottage hospital in Dartmouth.

The survey, carried out by independent health and social care champion Healthwatch on behalf of the Dartmouth Town Council and the Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, was conducted in November and December last year. During that time 642 people responded either online or by filling out a paper copy of the survey.

People were asked to say what facilities they would like to see on the site and the most popular response was for affordable housing for key workers and local people. Other responses included facilities for community and social groups, health or care services, using the site for commercial purposes or selling it, harbour offices, police services and parking.

While 85 per cent of respondents were overwhelmingly keen to see a community bid for the site, the remaining 15 per cent expressed some concerns about whether the town council had the required funding or expertise to deliver such a significant development project.

Dartmouth Town Councillor Ged Yardy, who is leading the bid, said: “We’re delighted to have such a huge vote of confidence from local people. Those who expressed some concerns are right that it is a huge ask for our community to come together and create an economically viable bid for this site in a matter of just a few months. But we have to try - this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for our community.

“We have several development companies who are keen to work with us and we will do everything in our power to deliver facilities that local people want for our town. The next step is to share the results of this survey with potential developers and receive their feedback on what they think we can achieve together. Of course, any future development will need to include some commercial elements to help pay for community facilities. At this stage, we are very hopeful. We are grateful to the support from our NHS partners in collaborating on a development brief that we believe would deliver both economic and social benefits for this community.”

Adrien Cooper, of Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust, added: “We’d like to thank Healthwatch for carrying out and evaluating this survey. The high response rate shows that local people are keen to have a say in what happens in their town. We’re delighted to be working with Dartmouth Town Council in this way to try to achieve the kind of development that local people actually want for the waterfront. As a public sector organisation, there are some rules we have to follow when we sell any land or buildings, including making sure we get a fair price. But that doesn’t mean we have to sell to the highest bidder. We’re really keen to see local people benefit from any development, and are doing everything we can to support this community bid.”

A spokesperson for the NHS Trust said the former hospital site is no longer needed for healthcare and will be sold to help fund the £4.8m Health and Wellbeing Centre being built at the top of the town. This will replace the current GP facilities and Dartmouth Clinic and include space for community nurses, therapists, social care workers, as well as Dartmouth Caring and a pharmacy.

They said: “The Trust needs the funds from the sale by the end of March 2023, to pay its build costs for the new Health and Wellbeing Centre. If a community bid proves not to be possible, the site will be advertised for sale on the open market in the second half of 2022. In that case, the NHS Trust and Dartmouth Town Council would share their development brief with interested parties, but would not be able to influence any future development on the site.”

Following the presentation of the survey results at this week’s meeting Dartmouth Town Councillors discussed the viability of forming a Community Land Trust in order to purchase, develop and operate the former hospital site.

Cllr Ged Yardy said: “We have options for acquiring the site and forming a Community Land Trust could well be the best way forward to own and operate the former hospital site.”