Shaftesbury Town councillors have blocked any future moves to build on Enmore Green’s playing field.
Last night, councillors voted to register the 1.5-acre site as a ‘Fields in Trust’. The Council will now sign a ‘Deed of Dedication’, a binding legal agreement, that ringfences this land as a recreation space for future generations.
Angela Gray spoke during the Council meeting to argue the case for safeguarding the field. She is ‘absolutely thrilled’ by the decision. “It’s been a two-year jaunt to try and get the security of the field for Enmore Green and we’ve done it, hopefully, in perpetuity,” Angela said.
This open space was originally created for use by pupils of the former Enmore Green school. “It was laid out in the early 1970s by the playing field committee that was attached to the primary school in Enmore Green, which closed in the 1980s,” said Angela. “The field then became a ward of the Town Council. It was put into the hands of locals to see how they wanted to use it and it’s been kept as an open space throughout that period.”
She added, “It’s been a benign caretaking exercise. We’ve just kept an eye on it. We’ve put up one goalpost because it’s not a football pitch – it’s an open space. People from all over the town come and make use of it, which is lovely.”
Jo Churchill was also at the meeting. Jo, like Angela, is determined to defend this Enmore Green asset from development. “To get access to it, you have to come to the Donkey Field Orchard. The allotments are on one side. It is sharing the space with others. It’s really a very big space that is there for the community,” Jo said.
Cllr George Hall is an Enmore Green resident who told the meeting that he uses the field regularly. And he warned that the land would make ‘an amazing building plot’. That is also Jo and Angela’s fear.
Last week, Dorset Council turned down an application to build a small estate at the side of the B3081 in Enmore Green. Jo said that locals have been concerned that developers have been eyeing the playing field as another space for houses.
“You’ve only got to see how some of the housing has encroached, bit by bit, on the fields that were once there. You thought they were safe and then suddenly, there’s a developer. It’s happening in Enmore Green on the other side. It’s been turned down at the moment, but we all know what developers are like. They’ll come back with ‘instead of the 25 houses, we’ll just put 10’,” said Jo.
Although Shaftesbury Town Council could have offered the Enmore Green Committee a long lease on the land, the community group that oversees the field is not constituted in a way that would allow them to enter into that sort of arrangement. Town Clerk Claire Commons said that finding a solution had been ‘a headache to say the least’. A shorter, seven-year lease wasn’t attractive to the group either because it didn’t offer enough protection against the risk of development.
The Fields in Trust designation did not appeal to all councillors, either. Piers Brown was concerned that members were making a decision which would restrict how the authority could deal with the field in the future. He felt that Town Council ownership provided protection for the space and the town’s future needs.
But Cllr Peter Yeo strongly disagreed. He argued that town councillors had bought the cattle market site back in the 1950s because they wanted to keep that land for use by the town. The local authority administrative changes which followed, decades later, meant that those councillors’ wishes were not followed.
Angela also felt that that legal protection, which the Council agreed on, was safer rather than letting future councillors decide the field’s fate. “I don’t trust them. We’ve had quite a few battles over the years. This committee is very dedicated to the open green spaces but that may change,” said Angela, who pointed out that government figures reveal that Shaftesbury doesn’t have enough recreational spaces per household, according to guidelines. “It is under what it should be,” said Angela.
Shaftesbury Town Council will still retain ownership of the field. “They will own it, will run it and we will probably step back from it because it will be a different setup,” said Angela. “They will care for it now, I would imagine. We could probably set up a ‘friends of’, which is more or less what we have been in the past.”
Cllr Yeo asked for other fields and spaces around the town to be given ‘Fields in Trust’ designation, protecting them from development. But the majority of members felt that further research was required before that was voted on. Town Council business manager Brie Logan advised that the Neighbourhood Plan group has learned that it is possible to designate important green spaces, whether the land is publicly or privately owned, and that offers some protection. The Town Council will return to this issue at a later date.
Even though they will remain site owner, the Council will not be allowed to bend the rules. If they wanted to erect any building on the playing field, even a small shed, they would need to apply for consent through the Fields in Trust organisation. “It set it in stone that this is an open space and everyone’s going to be able to use it for a very long time,” said Angela.