Shaftesbury Civic Society is opposing plans to build new houses on land alongside the A30, which is ring-fenced for employment use. They have launched their ‘Prevent Persimmon Jobs Before Houses’ campaign ahead of next week’s presentation by the developer to the public and Town Council.
The Civic Society is also worried that a large estate could be built just over the Wiltshire border. “Our lovely, historic Saxon and Georgian town, sitting in its wooded slopes, is under threat of being surrounded by poor quality, large scale development on all sides, creeping into the AONB and generally destroying the special nature of this town,” warned Jackie Upton King, Secretary of Shaftesbury Civic Society.
“I think that, at the moment, it feels as though Shaftesbury is under attack from developers who are using the opportunity of the change to unitary authority and the conditions in the National Planning Framework, where the rules aren’t clear. Opportunistic developers are gathering around our borders,” said Jackie.
The Civic Society opposes Persimmon’s plan to build on the southern side of the A30. The land is broadly opposite the traffic lights by Allen Road on the current Persimmon estate. The Local Plan blueprint for development has earmarked this site for employment purposes, a designation that the town’s Chamber of Commerce wants retained. Although Persimmon’s inclusion of retail space and maybe a hotel or care home in their proposal could create jobs, Jackie’s group doesn’t want 135 additional homes constructed there.
“We will be running a campaign to prevent Persimmon from ruining that employment land, which is so vital to the health of the community. We need jobs before we need homes. We’ve got lots of new houses. Those people in the new houses need to be integrated into our community, but they also need work. And if that employment land is lost, it is lost forever,” said Jackie.
Persimmon’s proposal includes a primary school on the site as part of their outline planning permission. Jackie believes that’s a red herring. “Persimmon cannot build a primary school. The County Council are the only people who can,” she said. “They have to buy the land from Persimmon and they have to build it and they will not do that unless there is sufficient demand and sufficient need. They don’t have the sort of money, millions and millions of pounds, to build a school on spec. Persimmon are being less than honest by offering that as one of the possibilities for this land.”
Last month, Dorset County Council told ThisIsAlfred: “It is only an outline planning application, which includes land for an additional primary school. Dorset County Council had been looking for an additional school site in the town previously, and whilst current primary pupil numbers can be accommodated within existing provision, and there is no imminent demand for an additional school, it was felt that if the opportunity arose to identify a suitable site for future development it should not be lost, and could be brought forward for development should the need arise again in the future.
“This is just an outline application at this stage – there are no proposals or funding in place to bring forward the development of the school should this application be approved.”
We offered Persimmon the chance to address Jackie’s points. ThisIsAlfred was directed to the developer’s PR representatives. We have emailed and spoken with their staff twice since last Wednesday but they have not responded to our questions.
Another plan to build around 400 homes just over the Wiltshire border, next to the Wincombe Estate, is also on the Civic Society’s ‘radar’.
Last week, an email from the developer’s agent Savills confirmed that this is still on the table. He told us that the proposal could include a neighbourhood centre, a school and a new road, which could form the northern half of a potential Shaftesbury by-pass.
The agent said that proposal has been submitted to Wiltshire Council as part of their Local Plan review. The former North Dorset District Council had been sent the details ‘for information’, he confirmed.
“We are aware that for some years now, Savills have been trying to stitch together a proposal with various landowners on the Wiltshire side of the border,” said Jackie. “That would only swamp the current situation, with that sort of numbers of people coming in, wanting services from Shaftesbury, but actually living in Wiltshire. So that is a very serious threat,” said Jackie.
Although neighbouring authorities reach agreement over infrastructure and facilities charges, a Wiltshire development would be outside the direct influence of Shaftesbury Town or Dorset Councils. Jackie believes that Shaftesbury Civic Society, which can operate across the county boundary, is best placed to oppose building on that land.
“The Civic Society can work in any part of the area, as long as it’s something that is going to threaten the integrity of the town. So I don’t see it being a cross border issue at all,” said Jackie. “Those developments would impinge on Shaftesbury in the same way, as anything going along the A30 would do so. And so I think the Civic Society has a moral imperative to work hard to prevent that happening.”
Jackie hopes that the Civic Society will gain new members at both their open event at 7pm at The Grosvenor Arms tonight (2nd April) and at the Persimmon presentation. The Town Council has convened that public meeting. It will be held downstairs at Shaftesbury Town Hall at 7pm on Thursday 11th April.
“We hope that we’ll see some new faces at the meeting, not just the usual ‘suspects’. It would be lovely to recruit some really fresh pairs of hands with lots of new good ideas as to how we can enhance our conservation areas, improve our town and push back on greedy developers,” said Jackie.