Trustees of St James’ Green See Red Over House-Build Plan

Shaftesbury residents are being encouraged to discover a tucked-away community garden with views of Melbury Hill. 

On Saturday afternoon, volunteers from St James’ Rolt Millennium Green will showcase their recent gardening and nature projects at The Grosvenor Arms Hotel. And trustees of the Green will explain why they are seeing red over a proposed property development next door. Keri Jones from ThisIsAlfred.com went along to find out more.

Halfway along St James Street, between Ye Olde Two Brewers and Abbey Primary School is a public retreat that is open to everyone, whether they live in Shaftesbury or are just visiting. “It is a space that’s used by lots of people, from those wanting to take ten minutes out, families with children playing or people who just like a little bit of peace and quiet. We use it for lots of different events as well,” said Trustee Amber Harrison as she guided me around the Green.

Amber Harrison

Herb gardens and flower beds filled with tulips provide a colourful feature in the open space nearest the road. As you walk through the garden, ducking under tree branches and boughs, the space ends with decking. Here there are two iron benches featuring the design of Abbey Primary pupils. This is a secluded spot, offering commanding views across the fields and hills.

Four padlocks, the ‘lovers’ locks’ that you sometimes see on bridges, are clamped to the perimeter fence. Amber thinks their placement demonstrates the wide age-range of Green visitors. “I’m going to hazard a guess that’s young lovestruck teenagers,’ she said.

Bench design by primary school children

Many people are unaware that this space is named after the woman who left the land for the use of Shaftesbury locals. “It was actually allotments and the lady who left them was Mrs Rolt, hence the name. She wanted to make sure that the land was available for community use afterwards, so the planning and plotting of the planting is reflective of that. That’s why we’ve got fruit, vegetables and we’ve got a lovely herb garden,” said Amber.

The second part the name of this retreat refers to when the project began. “It’s been around, unsurprisingly, since the Millennium,” she said. But the choice of the term ‘green’, instead of garden, is considered. “I think it is ‘green’ because it represents more of a space. It looks out. It’s not a very formal garden. It has rather nice bits in it, like the large chunk of green stone. It’s designed to be something to run about in, to play in and to enjoy,” said Amber.

A tribute to Helen Rolt on the Green’s notice board

There is a ‘green’ ecological aspect to this space too. Amber showed me the bee hotel placed in the green, following the successful campaign by Shaftesbury Bee Group promoter Brigit Strawbridge. “The volunteers have done a lot of work here and we got Dorset Wildlife Trust status because we support lots of biodiversity and natural species of insects, birds, bees and plants. It was last year and we were thrilled. It is a terrific spot,” said Amber.

Amber led me to the insect house. A four-foot high structure, the size of a broad chest of drawers, had been fashioned from layers of wood, like stacked pallets. The timber sides of this frame were interspersed with terracotta pots and red bricks. The interior space was crammed with bark, dried leaves and pine combs. There were holes in the wood of different sizes, designed to encourage use by different creatures.

“They might have bees, bugs, earwigs. You’ve got all different things going into it. The log piles might have stag beetles coming in,” said Amber. The volunteer gardeners came up with the idea. “You can see that they’ve planted rosemary around the outside as well. That’s nice,” she said. “It’s only about a month old so it’s still a little bit new. You will start to see bees nesting in here and they’ll build little cells for baby bees to come out.”

A bee hotel

This land won’t be built upon because the trustees ensure it remains green and open. “It belongs to the Millennium Green Trust, so the Green itself will be protected, always. We’re hoping that we can get that into the green spaces part of the Shaftesbury Neighbourhood Plan as well. It’s an area that’s absolutely essential for the community and which has real value.”

But trustees are objecting to plans to build a home on an adjacent 217 square metre plot. “It’s the third application we’ve had in the past five years. Planning permission has been put in for a two-bedroomed building, which will actually look directly onto the Green and will be on the edge of St James Street,” said Amber. “We still have the right to retain access, but obviously, planning permission is in and we are looking at what can be done.” Some trustees have written to object to the plan. By midday on 9th May, each of the 35 comments on the Dorset Council planning website opposed the development.

The applicant says she recognises the importance of the Green. The proposed dwelling has, “been carefully design to the highest standard considering the site, its setting, the surrounding architecture and key views.”

The reasons behind objections to previous applications have been taken into account in these new plans and the applicant believes that this single-storey home, which would look to use local stone, would improve the site appearance by replacing the rather functional, pebble-dashed double garages currently occupying the land. The mono-pitched roof of the new house would be a living, green roof, the applicant claims.

Garages where a house could be built

St James locals have raised concerns about additional traffic. The applicant has included off-street parking in her plans. Dorset Planners are expected to decide whether the development is approved later this summer.

The planning application will be discussed during Saturday’s session, which includes the Rolt Millennium Green AGM. But the event will also serve as a meet and greet for potential volunteers or Green users. Amber says it is open to all. “Tea, cake and brownies will be there. Come and find out more about the Green and understand why it’s such an important asset for the town,” she said.

It seems quite unusual to be a trustee of an open space rather than a building like the Arts Centre or Trinity Centre. Amber explained the trustee duties. “It’s making sure that the grounds are still kept looking good and that we are an accessible space for everybody. But it is also making sure that it’s safe and the walls are repaired. And it is making sure that we’ve got great signage, that tell you about the local nature and wildlife,” said Amber.

Trustees don’t have to be green-fingered either. “Gardeners are always helpful and I know our volunteers who meet on Fridays are very keen to do that. But we look for people with all kinds of skills – so people who can communicate, who are good on social media, to talk about how the green is important. We need people who help us raise money or have events so that people can access and share the green. We’re looking for all kinds, just people who really love the value of having a community breathing space.”

And the group is always looking for new ideas and innovations. “Since mid-2017, we’ve had a huge refresh of the Millennium Green,” said Amber. “The gardens and the beds are looking fantastic. We will want to look at how we take that to the next stage. We’ve got some tree planning that we want to put in place, so that the view is unimpeded, but also that we’re looking after the fantastic fruit and apple trees.”

If you want to learn more and get involved, call into The Grosvenor Arms Hotel from 3pm on Saturday, 11th May.