Motcombe should retain its village identity and not become a suburb of Shaftesbury or Gillingham. That’s the key message in the draft version of Motcombe’s Neighbourhood Plan.
Villagers now have their last chance to comment on this community-driven development blueprint. Keri Jones from ThisIsAlfred.com went to a drop-in event to learn more about the plan.
Councillor Dee Worlock is one of five volunteers who have compiled the Neighbourhood Plan over the last 18 months. I met her at the open day and the first thing she did was offer me cake. I expect that the good turnout was partially down to the well-publicised offer of sponge!
It’s important that locals engage with a plan that could change their community, and Dee and her team have used many creative methods of getting the message out, including ads that aired before cinema screenings at Motcombe Memorial Hall.
“We put it on our movie screen each month, when the films came on. If you can make it a bit of fun and visibly interesting, as we do, it works. It’s just another way of reaching people and telling them that this is happening,” said Dee, as she talked about her parish version of ‘Pearl and Dean’.
On this Saturday afternoon, the Memorial Hall’s walls were covered with large displays outlining the village’s history and the future vision for Motcombe’s housing and green spaces. Around twenty locals were milling around reading the proposals.
Many villagers have closely followed the entire process, from an initial survey through to public meetings and workshops. Early on in the process villagers wrote their concerns and wishes on post-it notes, which were categorised and, if supported by evidence, were woven into the Neighbourhood Plan’s policies. It’s been a lot of work. “We’re just trying to do the best for the village, for the future,” Dee said.
Parish Council Chairman Allistair Leask believes that the plan will provide clear guidance for planners making decisions about Motcombe. “A Neighbourhood Plan is the opinion of the residents of Motcombe. Each one has a say on what they think about it. If the majority agree then that will be Motcombe’s plan for the next 20-or-so years.”
The rules require people making Neighbourhood Plans to accommodate future development. They are not allowed to call for a ban on any further building. “Nobody really wants Motcombe to change. It’s a beautiful village. It’s a desirable place to live but we have been told by government that they need more houses built by 20 years hence. We have to make sure that they are built in the right place and use the right style for the village,” said Allistair.
Cllr Peter Mouncey is also on the Neighbourhood Plan group. He says the villagers were clear that they didn’t want Motcombe joining up with the adjacent towns. “Motcombe is a defined, separate village sitting between two towns. Both Shaftesbury and Gillingham are developing at a very rapid rate. One of the key objectives is to protect ourselves as a village and not become simply a suburb of those other two neighbouring towns,” Peter said.
“The advice we were given from North Dorset Council is that we should ensure that the development that takes place within the parish keeps ‘the village feel’, so we don’t have patches of large developments right on the boundaries. In the early days of the plan I suggested putting all of the housing next to the widescale developments happening in Gillingham. That is not what North Dorset wanted. They want to see an integral village. They don’t want to see a rural area which has plots of development on the outskirts that are removed from the core of the village itself.”
And Dee said it was important for the group to keep any future development close to the heart of Motcombe. “This is a very close, friendly village, on the whole. There were many comments that said ‘don’t get too big’.”
The plan proposes meeting the new housing requirement through infill developments. “The number of houses that we will have to build will be 40 to 50. It isn’t earthshattering but nobody wants them next to them or overlooking them. The plan is dealing with that as sensitively as we can,” said Dee. “People didn’t want estates, all in one lump of 30 or 40 houses. That came through very strongly in our first meeting. They also did not want more three-storey houses, which were put in as part of an earlier development, because they look so urban. And we’re trying to make the houses accessible so people can walk to the shop, church and school. We want to keep within the centre of the village as much as we can,” she said.
The plan offers guidance on what are appropriate building styles. It references the traditional Westminster Estate cottages that feature tall chimneys and green sandstone. “My house is one of them,” said Dee. “We have one or two in the village which are almost a pastiche of the Westminster style. I think what we are trying to avoid are the rows of little boxes. We want a look and finish that is meaningful, not mock Tudor beams on a house to make it look a bit villagey. We’ve two architects in the village who have been very helpful in analysing the type of style that we are looking for, which we think will be helpful to developers when they come.”
The plan also highlights the green spaces that villagers want to have protected. “Like the field behind the Memorial Hall,” said Peter. “Villages don’t always have a lot of open space. They can be very crowded with buildings. We are very lucky here because of the linear development of the village. We have these opportunities with quite large spaces, which the village can enjoy.”
Villagers want the avenue of oak trees on Frog Lane to be retained. “We think it is a particular feature of the village. They were planted to create a landscape effect. We want to preserve that. It’s underplanted with masses of daffodil bulbs. In the early spring it’s very beautiful. It’s a wonderful open space with heritage and environmental value to the village.”
Motcombe Parish covers a lot more land that you might expect. It extends up to the Virginia Hayward Hamper company premises on the A350. The parish also includes Kingsettle Woods. Peter says that ancient woodland didn’t need including on the list of green spaces to protect. “We don’t need to bother. It’s already owned by the Woodland Trust so it should be saved in perpetuity.”
Villagers have also told the Neighbourhood Plan group that they cherish Motcombe’s wildlife and they want habitats safeguarded. “We are lucky to have what they call the Eighteen Acres, which is where the meadows and the butterflies are,” said Dee.
There are some important village services that are cited in the plan. Peter says that the Memorial Hall, Coppleridge Inn and village shop are considered important amenities. “Motcombe used to have a pub, the Royal Oak, just down the street. It was sold by the brewery some years ago. That meant the village lost its proper village pub as such. The Coppleridge is on the outskirts of the village but is heavily used by locals and they are great supporters of the village. We want to ensure that people are aware that this is a key amenity. By designating it as such we hope it’ll be protected,” said Peter.
“The village shop had faced an uncertain future as a commercial operation,” he added. “It was saved as a community shop. It has a sub-post office and a cafe. The Memorial Hall is one of the best in the whole area. These assets need to be built into the plan. They are things that people wanted to have and protect.”
Dee says the volunteers have had to grapple with complex planning rules and terminology and she’s grateful that they have been able to employ a consultant to help them refine their proposed policies. “Taking on board an expert, in the form of our consultant, means that our ideas are focused and realistic.”
After 18 months of opinion gathering, the draft plan is online and is on display at the community shop. Villagers have until 30th November to make final comments. Dee says there has to be ‘give and take’ and that not everyone will agree with every policy. “The first thing you realise is that you cannot please all of the people, all of the time.”
Residents will be asked to vote on the plan during a parish referendum. A majority vote will mean it can be adopted but Peter is hoping for strong support for its policies. “Iwerne Minster felt they didn’t have sufficient support, so they abandoned their Neighbourhood Plan. In their referendum, there was 52% in favour and 48% against. But they decided that was not a great mandate to continue with. So it can fall at this stage. Then you have the option of abandoning it or making major changes, which will cost money. We can access grants and volunteer labour but consultants are paid out of a grant or the parish precept.”
If the plan is approved, then it will be adopted by North Dorset District Council and should be referred to when planners make decisions about Motcombe. “If the process goes smoothly, we could have Neighbourhood Plan by the middle of next year,” said Peter.
The draft document can be downloaded from the Motcombe Parish Council website where you’ll also find information on how to offer feedback.