New Shaftesbury Estate Approved – Inspector Overturns Planning Refusal

A new housing estate can be built alongside the Higher Blandford Road in Shaftesbury after developer Robert Tizzard overturned the former North Dorset District Council’s refusal of planning permission for his development.

There were sixteen objections lodged to the plans to build up to 55 homes on fields between the B3081 and the A30 Salisbury Road, when North Dorset planners debated the proposals in January. Some opponents, including Shaftesbury Civic Society and the local branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, expressed concern over the impact on adjacent countryside.

The land off the Higher Blandford Road

Civic Society Chairman Jackie Upton King argued that, ‘Not just the views out from the town but the views into the town from the AONB, from Melbury Down’, would be affected. The Planning Inspector said that the developer’s projection had shown that the estate would be visible from the AONB but at some distance, and it would be seen as part of the Shaftesbury settlement.

Milborne Port-based developer Robert Tizzard says he considered the surrounding scenery in his plans. “We have taken into account the views and there is an area that has been set aside as open space,” he told ThisIsAlfred. “One of the strong points of our application is that the public will have access to that area to enjoy the views which currently they do not, other than from the road or glimpsing from a car.”

The Inspector felt these open spaces at the western and southern end of the estate would preserve the views towards Melbury Beacon, although he conceded that the development would still cause limited harm to a sensitive area. He also accepted that the estate would create an ‘urbanising effect’ to the detriment of the area’s rural character, although Mr Tizzard disagrees. “That part of Shaftesbury has been well developed,” he said.

Mrs Upton King didn’t want this Grade II agricultural land built on. She had quoted the National Planning Policy Framework, that places importance on quality farmland. But the Inspector felt that this 3.2-hectare plot was small compared to the amount of available farmland across the council’s area. He also said that he understood that these fields had not been grazed recently and were not part of a larger farm.

Shaftesbury Town Council and the Civic Society questioned sustainability of the location, suggesting that residents could be cut off, making them reliant on cars. Cllr Piers Brown warned that estate occupants would need to walk over one mile to buy a pint of milk. But the Inspector saw the location differently. He said it was connected to the town by ‘quality footways’ and cycleways and was situated within 1.2km of the medical centre, a supermarket and secondary school.

Piers remains unconvinced. “I would be concerned about seven-year-old Little Johnny crossing the road to go to school with his parents, considering it’s two lanes of traffic on both sides of the central reservation, where you would want to cross. We want our young kids walking to school rather than being driven,” Piers said.

Concerns about vehicular access had been raised but Dorset Highways did not object. And the Inspector has stated that the junction of the A30 at Salisbury Road and B3081 Higher Blandford Road must be realigned.

Worries about the extra burden on the town’s infrastructure were also aired. The local NHS, the Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group, said that an estimated 132 estate residents would impact on their resources. The NHS has put in a claim for cash should the homes be built.

The Inspector noted that the North Dorset District Council Local Plan, inherited by the new Dorset Council, identifies Shaftesbury as one of four key settlements to shoulder the majority of growth in the district. This plan recognises our town as a sustainable location where jobs, homes and facilities are easily accessible. Mr Tizzard’s team argued that this new estate addresses housing need.

The land viewed from the A30

That is because the local planning authority has not met its obligation to identify land to meet the area’s house building quota for the next five years. They have identified 3.3 years’ worth. The Inspector felt this new development would make a significant contribution to the shortfall.

This proposed estate is outside Shaftesbury’s settlement boundary, the area designated for future housing. Because the five-year housing land supply quota hasn’t been met, some restrictions which would have previously prevented estates from being built on open countryside can be relaxed. It means that land which had not been ring fenced for housing can now be considered for development.  Piers believes there could be more protection for green spaces if the neighbourhood plans for Shaftesbury and for Melbury Abbas and Cann are approved by their respective communities in a public vote.

“Neighbourhood Plans give a little more protection in terms of site allocation and additional planning policies that are local to that area. It helps put the threshold for the lack of housing supply argument down from five years to three-and-a-half years,” said Piers.

That would not have altered this decision, as the current supply is 3.3 years, “but as more properties are built across North Dorset, then our land supply reaches three-and-a-half years and hopefully back to five years at some point in a future,”said Piers.

The Inspector didn’t consider the draft Neighbourhood Plans because they’ve not been adopted. The community will be asked to vote on those plans in 2020.

Jackie Upton King says that Shaftesbury has been, ‘badly let down by the planning system’, which allows the five-year supply of housing land to, ‘override any consideration of local appropriateness and damage to the countryside’.

“We have also been let down by the County Highways Department, which seems determined to ignore the increasingly dangerous situation on the C13. That will be exacerbated by this scheme,” added Mrs Upton King.

Shaftesbury Civic Society feel that the Bristol-based Planning Inspector has taken the decision away from North Dorset. “The Civic Society can see no truly democratic role for local councillors and local people within the current planning processes. This is a shocking and unsustainable position for our county and our community,” warned Mrs Upton King.

In granting outline planning permission, the Inspector gives consent for the estate to be built on this land. The finer details of the development will be determined later. “I hope that my colleagues on the Town Council and Dorset Council will welcome the opportunity to talk to the builder, who will now have to go through another stage of planning to work out what the properties are going to look like, where they are going to be situated, their size and where the open space goes,” said Piers.

The land off the Higher Blandford Road

Shaftesbury Civic Society is urging county councillors to monitor the forthcoming detailed plans for this site and conditions imposed by the inspector, ‘to ensure that this development does as little damage to our sensitive landscape as possible.’

Although Mr Tizzard had previously wanted to build 120 properties on this site, he says the Inspector’s ruling is clear. “The site, as a whole, is capable of more houses. We had, in response to the detailed discussions with the planning officer, and with his landscape team, agreed to revise the original proposal up to 55,” he said.

But Mr Tizzard’s company won’t be building the properties. “We are already in discussion several housebuilders,” Mr Tizzard said, adding that he hasn’t chosen a company yet. “We have no commitments, but Shaftesbury is an attractive town. This is a good site and there is considerable interest.”

Councillor Brown says he won’t be pleased if Persimmon gets the work. “I am not a fan of Persimmon’s working practices and the way they have treated their customers nationally and, more importantly, locally here in Shaftesbury. They would not be my first choice developer. They would probably be my last.”

But Piers is pleased that the Inspector recognised that up to 30% of the properties – potentially 17 homes – will have to be ‘affordable’. “That is one of the positives coming out of this application. What will be really key is for the Planning Authority to make sure that those properties are of the type most in need in Shaftesbury and North Dorset, so that local people can take them up and our community can become a little bit more sustainable.”

The Inspector has granted Mr Tizzard’s company permission to negotiate costs from Dorset Council, because the Planning Authority did not provide solid planning reasons to refuse planning permission. There was also not enough detail over how the Council calculated the financial contribution they wanted from the developer.

Mr Tizzard says it’s fair that he should be recompensed. “A planning appeal does involve quite a considerable cost. We haven’t yet addressed the detail of what costs have been, as it is quite a recent decision. We were surprised and disappointed that the (Planning) Committee turned down the application, given how hard we had worked with the planning officer to find an acceptable scheme,” he said.

Piers believes that North Dorset councillors were right to overturn the recommendation of their planning officer, who felt the estate plan should have been approved. “I think we should start by thanking the councillors at what was North Dorset District Council for making a decision which I, and members of the community think, was the right decision in terms of rejecting the application,” said Piers.

“Councillors aren’t on the Planning Committee to do what the officers tell them, because if they were, what is the point of them?” he added. “Just because an appeal was successful, doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision. Everybody will make a judgment slightly differently and it is open to a certain amount of interpretation. That’s why both very experienced planning officers and councillors can come to different conclusions, whilst both believe they are interpreting the same text correctly. It doesn’t mean that either side was wrong or acted irresponsibly. They just reasonably came to a different conclusion.”

Mr Tizard is unsure how long it’ll be before the new homes are built. “It is hard to say,” he said, although he understands that applicants usually have three years before planning consent lapses.