North Dorset District councillors have rejected a plan to build a small housing estate of up to 55 homes alongside Shaftesbury’s Higher Blandford Road.
Shaftesbury Civic Society’s Jackie Upton King has called the District Council’s decision, “A victory for people power,” and she hopes that today’s outcome, “encourages more people to stand up and be counted.”
But, as ThisIsAlfred’s Keri Jones heard, the disappointed developer is now considering his next move.
Milborne Port based businessman Robert Tizzard first applied for permission to build homes on the fields at the corner of the A30 and B3081 back in 2015. Those plans were revised following consultation, before Robert’s company, Shaftesbury LVA, submitted a new application for fewer houses and with green spaces for public use.
Robert felt that his plan had addressed the issues raised by objectors. “We have worked over a couple of years with various members involved in the planning process, the planning officer and their consultees,” said Robert. “Together, we found a solution – a good, low-density development that provided new, additional public open space. It gave benefits and allowed the views to be appreciated in a way that they aren’t currently.”
Shaftesbury Mayor and North Dorset councillor, Piers Brown, spoke against the plans today at the meeting in Durweston, along with his North Dorset District colleagues Cllrs Jo Francis and Catherine Langham.
Jackie was pleased that elected members opposed the development. “I’m hoping that we’ve turned a page and entered a new chapter and that Shaftesbury Town Council and the District councillors will be much more proactive on behalf of Shaftesbury,” she said.
Robert Tizzard was disappointed by the councillors’ comments in this morning’s planning meeting. “We were somewhat surprised that some committee members, not all, despite officer recommendations and assurances on the points that those members raised, felt that they couldn’t support it,” said Robert.
Jackie says that Civic Society believes that the District Council has made the right call. “I think it’s really good news for Shaftesbury. It indicates that councillors are prepared to stand firm about these additional sites that are coming forward, despite the fact that the Council has to meet their targets,” said Jackie. “There are some sites, which are really sensitive. Shaftesbury has already taken a lot of development and a lot more is on its way. It is a very special landscape. The town is set in its wooded slopes, set on the hill. To pick away at the outskirts of that, tacking on extra bits or around it, will ruin the heritage and the landscape of Shaftesbury.”
Letters opposing the housing development were sent from the North Dorset group of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Shaftesbury Open Spaces Group and Cann Parish Council. There were sixteen objections.
Some residents wrote to complain that the houses would spoil the views across the open countryside. Jackie says the impact upon the landscape in both directions was considered in the meeting. “Not just the views out from the town but views into the town from the AONB, from Melbury Down and The Cranborne Chase.”
This greenfield site is farmland and Jackie believes that land use gave planners a solid reason for turning down the development. “This is Grade II agricultural land, which the National Planning Framework says should not be built on,” she said.
Piers Brown says that planning consideration is not entirely watertight. “My understanding is that Grade II agricultural land can be developed on but it is really not preferable. So it’s not a case of being completely out of the window,” he said.
One of Shaftesbury Town Council’s objections was over traffic and access to the site. Dorset County Highways considered the applicant’s transport assessment to be satisfactory but Piers told the meeting that residents of these new houses would be cut off from the town.
“We felt that the site wouldn’t allow that area to be sustainable. If you wanted to buy a pint of milk from the local corner shop then it’s over a mile-long walk through about three different housing estates.”
Shaftesbury Town Council was also worried about additional pressure on the town’s infrastructure. The Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group raised concerns about the impact that an estimated 132 residents would have on NHS resources. They requested money from the developer – a ‘Section 106’ contribution. Although a financial payment towards local health and education services was mentioned in the meeting, Jackie said it didn’t sway the councillors.
Robert refutes suggestions that Shaftesbury can’t take any more housing. “I can’t agree with that because the planning evidence doesn’t suggest that is the case. As the officer said, Shaftesbury is one of the sustainable towns of North Dorset,” he said.
North Dorset Council hasn’t met the government quota for identifying building land for the next five years. That means some previous planning rules, which would have prevented building in sensitive areas, can now be challenged by developers. If North Dorset District Council had allowed today’s planning application then they would have been 55 homes nearer their five-year land supply target.
So Piers Brown says today’s decision could be seen as significant. “There is definitely the assumption, because of the five year land supply, that the scales are tilted towards planners, because central government wants to see more homes delivered,” he said, adding, “Shaftesbury Town Council is not anti-development. We actually just want good development in the right places for local people.”
Jackie says the Civic Society understands and accepts that North Dorset has a housing quota imposed on it but says today’s decision shows that the District Council is still weighing up the potential impact of development rather than allowing any scheme to take place, so they can hit their home build target.
“They are under huge pressure from central government to meet these rather spurious targets. One or two of them did say they felt it was very difficult to fly in the face of those targets. But I got the impression that for these really rather special sites, they would be prepared to stand firm,” she said.
Robert argues that houses have to be built somewhere and he believes Shaftesbury can accommodate more people. “North Dorset has a policy where it shows a reluctance to allow development in smaller settlements. Larger settlements have to accommodate new housing or the very significant shortage in meeting the prescribed and calculated housing need in this local authority area will not be met,” he said. “North Dorset has a poor record of providing affordable homes for those in need. Affordable homes come from development. North Dorset needs new housing. The question is where should that housing go? Should it go on the edge of a sustainable town such as Shaftesbury, already surrounded on three sides by development?”
And the developer says that councillors have not offered any housing solutions during today’s debate. “I think it’s somewhat easy for councillors to say what they don’t like. It’s a more demanding task for them to face up to their national and local obligations to provide additional housing. It’s a question of ‘where’ not ‘if’,” he said.
As Civic Society spokesperson, Jackie believes that today’s decision is important because it shows that public opinion matters and that elected representatives can reflect strong local opinion effectively. “There was a good turnout of local people which makes a difference. I think if you can demonstrate that people care enough to turn up at a meeting and make objections and write in, then it does have a real influence on this situation.”
Now Jackie hopes that Shaftesbury residents will feel encouraged to speak out against other controversial applications that concern them. “I would love to think that if we all stood up as we have done today, and actually made sound cases, then the planners would think very carefully about permitting some of these developments,” she said.
But Jackie says she doesn’t think today’s decision will draw a line under the proposed development and that the Civic Society will need to keep a close watch on the Higher Blandford Road land. “It would be ridiculous to be so optimistic to think that somebody who’s invested that much money would walk away at this point, but the grounds that have been chosen for the refusal are pretty solid.”
So what happens next? Robert told ThisIsAlfred that he is considering whether to try to get today’s decision overturned. “My advisors will say that there’s a very good prospect of a successful appeal but at this early stage we will not jump to any conclusion. We will just consider all of our options and, where possible, continue to work with officers in communities to bring this site forward,” he said.
And Robert says he could also amend his plans and apply to develop the site for a third time. “That’s one of the options we have to consider. The application is for up to 55 houses. Professionals advised us that the site could have accommodated 120 homes. We’ll give it due thought, so there’s no fixed time. It will take the time that it takes. It’s very much a live project and we will continue to be active on it from now on. We will consider all of our options,” said Robert.