Ancient Devon village that is constantly changing

The ancient village of Kingswear, located on the east bank of the mouth of the River Dart opposite the town of Dartmouth, is constantly changing.

Initially a Saxon village, it became a stopping point for pilgrims on their way to Canterbury, it was the site of a Civil War battle, and a ‘railway town’ which led to it becoming a shipbuilding hub.

But the Parish today is largely dependent on tourism, and nearly one in three homes a ‘second home’ for those wishing to escape to the seaside.

However, water based activities and business opportunities offered by its river and coastal margins have always been part of its history, and the parish already is seeing another major change take place.

Work has begun on the £75m redevelopment of the Noss on Dart marina to create a unique place of interest and activity at the heart of which will be the UK’s finest marina and boatyard.

Artist impression of the Noss on Dart marina regeneration
Artist impression of the Noss on Dart marina regeneration

Premier Marina’s plans will reinvigorate the site, creating a waterside place, and will sit alongside the Kingswear Neighbourhood Plan, which aims to promote a thriving and sustainable community while protecting the special charm and character of Kingswear Parish and the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty it lies in for residents and visitors.

THE HISTORY OF KINGSWEAR PARISH

The name Kingswear is thought to come from two sources – King from the hamlet of Kingston on the hill above the village, which dates from Saxon times – and the Wear may refer to the tidal mill at Waterhead Creek where the water tidal flow was controlled by weirs.

One of the earliest records of Kingswear was in 1170 when William de Vasci gave half his land at Kingswear to “Richard the Deacon and other succeeding or serving him”, and after the murder of Thomas a Becket, a chapel was built at Kingswear in around 1174 and the church of St. Thomas of Canterbury is still an important feature of the village today.

There was also a Priory established close by and Kittery Point became an embarkation point for pilgrims going to visit the shrine of St James of Compostela and for pilgrims disembarking on their way to visit Canterbury.

In the Civil War, the Parliamentarians fought the Royalists near to the Redoubt in what is now the village playing field.

In the 18 th Century, ship building started being carried out in Kingswear but in 1864 the shipyard was lost when the railway terminus was built.

The railway, arriving in 1864, led to the expansion of Kingswear. It became a coaling station and a departure point for ships sailing to the East. Passengers could join their ships here, arriving by train linked to the main railway networks, but closed in the 1960s as part of the Beeching Axe, although lives on a heritage railway.

Kingswear departure - A steam hauled train en route for Paignton
Kingswear departure – A steam hauled train en route for Paignton (
(Image: Chris Allen/Geograph)

A ferry was established at Kittery Point (The Lower Ferry) from early times for pilgrims and travellers, with an additional ferry (The Higher Ferry) from Rock Point to Sandquay, being operational from 1831, and today, ferries still run from these places

In 1890 a major shipyard and engineering works was established at Noss, becoming the Philip & Son shipbuilding yard, but operated as a marina and boatyard since shipbuilding ceased in the late 1990s, and it is this site that is currently being redeveloped.

In addition, the parish houses Greenway House, the home of Agatha Christie, and the Dart tourist boat tours point out the Boat House on the banks of the river in the Greenway estate.

THE PARISH TODAY

In the village of Kingswear, there were 545 people living in 300 households, as of the latest figures. Today, in addition to the Church of St. Thomas of Canterbury, the village has two public houses, a post office, two cafés, an estate agent, village store, a marine engineering workshop and a marina.

The Royal Dart Yacht Club is situated near to the ferry slip, with the Heritage Steam Railway station and the Village Hall in the heart of the village. There is also a village Primary School which takes pupils from both within the Parish and outside, and the Parish is largely dependent on tourism. Water based activities and business opportunities offered by its river and coastal margins have always been part of its history.

In the rest of the Parish, mainly at Hillhead, there were 670 people in 315 households. The settlement at Hillhead, developed in the 1970s around the Old Farmhouse of Raddicombe, has no facilities other than a bus service into Kingswear village and the neighbouring towns of Brixham and Paignton and is a quiet residential area.

Apart from the two settlements of Kingswear and Hillhead the Parish comprises of scattered farms and hamlets. Farming, marinas and associated small marine business, fishing and tourism are the major sources of employment in the area, and the Neighbourhood Plan seeks to protect the environment that supports these while allowing limited targeted development for their improvement.

At the north of the Parish is Galmpton Creek were there are several small businesses providing services for yachts and boats along with two boat yards. The area of Greenway lies to the south of Galmpton, and includes Greenway House, former home of the authoress Agatha Christie

(Image: DevonLive)

Further south at Noss the site of the old shipyard of Philip and Co. and the present base of the Noss on Dart Marina, which has come under new ownership and plans for a big investment and upgrade of the site are under way.

The plan says “This will bring more employment, increased leisure facilities and tourism to the Parish.”

NOSS MARINA REDEVELOPMENT

In 2018, Premier Marinas were granted planning permission for the redevelopment of Noss on Dart marina.

The £75m proposed investment in the site will create a unique place of interest and activity at the heart of which will be the UK’s finest marina and boatyard.

Premier’s plans will reinvigorate the site, creating a waterside place comprising a new marina with around 232 berths; a dry stack for 100 smaller motor craft; a boatyard with a 75-tonne boat hoist servicing private, fishing and commercial craft across South Devon; 21 marine trade commercial units; a hotel with 50 rooms, two restaurants and a spa; new car parking arrangements and a Heritage centre to celebrate the site’s history. An enabling development of 114 residential units is also part of the scheme.

Premier’s plans also include a passenger ferry link to Dartmouth town with its shops, restaurants and historic places of interest, and they are committed to permanently siting the memorial that is dedicated to those workers who lost their lives at the shipyard during the Second World War, on the site.

Masterplan for the Noss on Dart Marina regeneration
Masterplan for the Noss on Dart Marina regeneration

A number of critical enabling works have been completed, including the widening and strengthening of the railway bridge, the addition of a pedestrian bridge over the railway line; construction of the primary electricity substation; and providing improved access with better visibility at the entrance to the site.

These projects have facilitated the commencement of the construction of the boatyard and marina elements of the development , with the plan being to complete these by the end of 2021, with construction of the new floating marina is well underway with work on track for the completion of 232 berths for the 2021 season. The floating marina will provide a berth for each boat and rafting out will be a thing of the past.

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HOUSING

At the time of the 2011 census there were 1,215 people in the Parish with 827 dwellings, but 183 of them of them were registered as ‘second homes’, which means that 27 per cent of dwellings in the Parish are not used as primary residence.

As the village of Kingswear is felt to have more second homes than the rest of the Parish and Hillhead, the percentage in Kingswear itself may be nearer 30 per cent.

The Neighbourhood Plan says: “The increase in second homes and holiday lets although they do contribute to the economy of the region, are helping to raise house prices and can have a negative impact on community life.”

As a result, the plan includes a policy that new residential development in Kingswear Parish will, therefore, be required to be for primary residence only.

Kingswear as seen from Dartmouth
Kingswear as seen from Dartmouth
(Image: Colin Park/Geograph)

Policies also promotes the provision of local affordable housing, with local residency conditions to ensure that homes are going to local people, with any affordable housing schemes to be suited to the scale of Kingswear.

Any development proposals should retain the local character and distinctiveness of the area by conserving and to respect the sensitive location of the Parish and its landscape within the AONB, an indicative amount of housing on any proposal would be about 10 dwellings or less, on a site generally no larger than 0.4 of a hectare.

The Joint Local Plan does not include a housing allocation at the village of Kingswear due to its sensitive location on a heritage coast and the entire Parish lying within the AONB, however, there will be more than 100 new homes on the Noss On Dart site.

THE VISION AND OBJECTIVES

The Neighbourhood Plan says that its vision is to promote a thriving and sustainable community while protecting the special charm and character of Kingswear Parish and the AONB for residents and visitors.

Objectives within the plan include:

  • Recognising the different characteristics of settlements and protecting the different character with appropriate development.
  • Strengthening community ties between Hillhead and Kingswear.
  • Promoting tourism that does not adversely impact on the setting of the Parish and its AONB.
  • Developing community open spaces and recreational facilities, particularly in Hillhead.
  • The successful integration of the new development at the Noss Marina into the Parish Community and infrastructure.
  • To protect the integrity of the AONB, its wildlife, beauty, and vistas.
  • Development within the settlement boundaries to respect local character and not impact adversely on the existing settlements and to ensure new development addresses local housing need, both for market and affordable housing.
  • To protect and improve where possible existing community facilities.
  • To ensure development protects and enhances the ecological richness and visual beauty of the river estuary and coastal margins

It adds: “The slipways and public paths are important facilities allowing public access to water and should continue to remain as such. Any development affecting these will be required to maintain the existing community use or provide an alternative public space and facility with equal accessibility to water, size, and use. Proposals to improve existing community use will be supported.”

The plans adds that the lack of on-street parking in Kingswear is a generally acknowledged problem, and immediately visible.

It adds: “The number of dwellings with no off-street parking provision is likely to be a significant cause, as well as general demand from visitors and owners of yachts moored in the estuary in a village where the topography, and visual sensitivity of the AONB designation does not allow extensive provision of car parking.

“Due to the greater than usual pressure on the street for parking therefore, any new development is encouraged to provide a minimum of two off-street parking places per residential development and parking provision in line with the highway authority requirements in other cases.”

The River Dart looking down to Kingswear
The River Dart looking down to Kingswear
(Image: Steve Daniels/Geograph)

Seven in ten respondents to the initial resident’s questionnaire identified unsafe roads as an issue for them and that they would like the Neighbourhood Plan to address as many of the roads in Kingswear do not have a separate footway for pedestrians, with road widths and other considerations, including the visual character of the village, make it unlikely that off-carriageway facilities for pedestrians can be constructed.

Traffic-calming measures include simple constructions and other measures that slow motor vehicles, as well as alterations to the traffic and parking rules within the settlement, the plan says, adding: “In order to promote comfortable walking and cycling in the local area measures to improve pedestrian and cycle safety on the highway will be encouraged. The choice of solutions to be implemented in any future work will be determined by the highway authority, in consultation with the local community.”

And it adds that development proposals should retain the local character and distinctiveness of the area by conserving and where appropriate enhancing its historic environment including both designated and non- designated heritage assets and their settings, according to their national and local significance, and that the unique character of the built form in Kingswear village and the wider Parish should be reflected in new development proposals,

Development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats (such as ancient woodland and ancient or veteran trees) will be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons, and a suitable compensation strategy exists, while development proposals should be designed to retain trees or hedgerows of good arboriculturally and amenity value.

Dartmouth harbour looking towards Kingswear

Inappropriate development on the Local Green Spaces of the head of Waterhead Creek including Jubilee Park, the allotments, and Community Orchard, Redoubt Hill Playing Fields, US Garden, and Kingswear Wood, will only be permitted in very special circumstances.

The plan adds: “In order to promote a thriving community for all ages, there will be a strong presumption against the redevelopment of community facilities for non-community uses.”

The identified Community Facilities are:

  • The Post Office
  • Village Hall
  • The Steam Packet Public House
  • St Thomas of Canterbury Church
  • The Ship Inn
  • Kingswear Village Store
  • The Lower Ferry Slip
  • Slipway by The Royal Dart Yacht Club.
  • The slipway by the Dart Harbour Engineering workshop at the head of Waterhead Creek
  • The public toilets situated at The Square
  • The Kingswear Primary school and Nursery
  • Residential development at Hillhead will be expected to provide proposals for a play space at Hillhead

Residents of the parish will have the chance to vote on the plan when it goes to the referendum stage on May 6, and whether the neighbourhood plan should be used to make planning decisions in the parish.

If more than 50 per cent of those who vote say ‘yes’, the neighbourhood plan will be made and will form part of the development plan for the South Hams, where it will carry full weight in the planning decision making process.

Devon Live – Devon News