You might have noticed a group handing out leaflets outside the Town Hall this morning. They were standing next to a banner that read ‘Save Shaftesbury – Save Our Saxon Town’.
The residents are opposing plans to built 25 new homes on a triangular plot north of Enmore Court in Enmore Green. This site lies alongside the B3081 Shaftesbury to Gillingham Road on the left hand side, just down the hill from the Motcombe turning.
Charlotte Mackay farms sheep there and she wants this land, on Shaftesbury’s northern slopes, to be left alone. “What we want is to have no development whatsoever. We feel that the impact of just one house will have a cascading effect and it will open up the floodgates for more houses and more developments in the area,” Charlotte said.
The group says that their presence on the High Street on a busy Saturday morning has generated a lot of interest. They were asking locals to sign a letter of objection. Petitions, they say, are not considered an effective way to present opinion to planners.
“We’ve probably had around 40 signatures on letters. They will go direct to North Dorset District Council’s Head of Planning. A few people have been slightly nervous about signing something but, on the whole, people have been very positive,” Charlotte said, adding that the group has not been approached by anyone who is in support of the development.
North Dorset District Council has 89 comments about this planning application on its website (as of the 4thAugust 2018). All of the correspondence currently posted is opposed to the development, although one respondent is mistakenly listed as supporting the plan when she has clearly written to object to the proposal.
Shaftesbury Civic Society has voiced its opposition along with Motcombe Parish and Shaftesbury Town Councils. Shaftesbury’s councillors have requested that North Dorset’s councillors debate the proposed development in a planning meeting. Staff sometimes consider planning applications, rather than the elected members.
“We know that this planning application will go to committee. It’s so big. We are now waiting for the committee date, which will probably not happen until 2019. We have a lot of people interested in helping at that meeting. With a bit of luck, we’ll have many people speaking at that meeting,” said Charlotte.
The Save Shaftesbury group members were taking action today because this proposal directly affects them. So would they set up a similar stall on the High Street to inform locals about proposed developments elsewhere in town?
“It’s a good question, and I must answer it honestly,” said Charlotte. “Had this not had an impact on us, we most probably would not have taken any action. But this has been a massive educational process for us. We now realise how important all of this is.
“It opened our eyes to the town a lot more. I’ve been associated with this area all of my life. Our children were brought up and went to school here. I don’t think I’d really noticed how beautiful this town and the surrounding area is until this happened on our doorstep. We do feel it’s important to take action everywhere.”
The government requires all local planning authorities to identify sites for building that will meet an area’s housing needs for five years. But there have been issues nationally. Some developers have been slow to build on land that they have been granted permission to develop. In some cases, they’ve banked the land and failed to build homes.
So the targets remain. If councils can’t suggest suitable additional sites to meet the area’s needs, then they have failed to meet their five-year land supply. That’s happened in North Dorset. It means that developers can challenge the recommended land use in the Local Plan – the blueprint for development. This makes it easier for companies to build in sensitive areas or outside the settlement boundary.
“The settlement boundaries have been put in place very specifically to say this is a map of where we can and cannot build. Anything outside that dotted line means that it is protected from development. We are also very much objecting to any greenfield sites outside the settlement area being developed on as well. This site is outside the settlement boundary,” said Charlotte.
On their leaflet, the group state, “there is already sufficient allocated land within the town’s settlement boundary to meet the government’s requirements without the need to grant planning permission for a new housing development in the countryside surrounding the town.”