Shaftesbury town councillors have unanimously agreed to place a bid to buy The Wilderness. And councillors were clear that they have no intention of turning the green space into an outdoor gym, in the light of recent press reports.
ThisIsAlfred.com’s Keri Jones attended the public part of the meeting on Wednesday night. Members of the public addressed councillors for a third time to ask them to buy the plot of ancient woodland and green space, which is set to be auctioned on 14thDecember.
Residents have spoken in passionate terms about the historic and ecological merits of the 8.5-acre site above French Mill Lane. Open Spaces Group Member, Bernard Ede, rose to his feet to tell councillors that the purchase presented a one-off opportunity. Mr Ede added, “I hope you don’t miss it.”
Members of the public who have emailed or written to councillors can justifiably feel that their persistence has paid off. Town councillors openly discussed the volume of emails and letters they have received, asking them to support a bid for the land.
I asked Town Clerk, Claire Commons, whether this volume of feedback had influenced councillors. “I think there was always an enthusiasm from the councillors because they are Shaftesbury people and that place is very special in the heart of everybody who lives in Shaftesbury. I think it’s just a true reflection of the community,” Claire said.
The land is being offered for auction with a starting price of £60,000. Claire can’t say how much Shaftesbury Town Council is prepared to bid. “If the bid is accepted then we can reveal that. If we are unsuccessful, then we can let people know that we tried and how far we were prepared to go. It’s just going to be a waiting game on that one,” said Claire.
Recently, councillors decided to approach the vendor, Jim Clark, to see whether he could agree a sale outside the auction process. After discussing that approach, Claire says that the Council has resolved to wait for the auction. “On the expert advice that we have received, the auction is thought to be the best opportunity to get the right price for that piece of land.”
The Council will be represented by a negotiator at the auction. “We’ve agreed to engage an expert who will bid on our behalf. We will tell them the extent to which we are prepared to go and they will progress with that.”
Locals have voiced their hope that The Wilderness will remain just as it is. Councillors were unhappy at a free newspaper’s article on the proposed sale, which centred on one councillor’s suggestion of adding an outdoor gym, cycle tracks and benches to The Wilderness. Cllr Andy Perkins criticised the report as ‘pathetic’ and ‘a disappointing twisting of facts’. “The Council has no expectation to put in an outdoor cycle track and tables,” Cllr Perkins added.
After the meeting the Town Clerk, Claire Commons, repeated that view. “The Council has only expressed the idea to buy the land and to protect it as The Wilderness. There will always be that opportunity to hear what people want from it but there’s been no indication that they are going to do anything more than protecting the space as it already is and enhancing the historic features of it,” said Claire.
Bernard Ede also urged councillors to devise and follow an ecological management plan if the Council is successful in its bid.