History, heritage and our town’s future development will feature in Shaftesbury Civic Society’s ‘Focus on the Local’ on 14th November. During the event, the Chairman of environmental pressure group North Dorset Campaign to Protect Rural Englandwill share his suggested changes to local house-building policy.
Rupert Hardy is keen for Shaftesbury residents to understand that the CPRE charity doesn’t exist solely to object to development. “We stand for a beautiful and a thriving countryside. We are not just there to stop things,” he told ThisIsAlfred.
Rupert will outline his group’s proactive work, undertaken both nationally and locally, during his address. “We campaign to stop litter and reduce single-use plastic. We are the biggest campaigner for the deposit return scheme for bottles and cans. We run the ‘best village shop’ competition and we support local food and drink producers. Our colleagues down in Purbeck are supporting proposals for a Dorset National Park. There are lots of things that we are doing,” explained Rupert.
One issue is likely to dominate Rupert’s talk and follow-up questions from the floor. “Shaftesbury is an historic tourist town and it is very sad that the town appears to be singled out by developers. There’s a ring, or potential ring, around the town of indifferent housing estates of varying quality,” he said.
North Dorset CPRE is unhappy at the estate building all over the former North Dorset district. “We are very concerned about North Dorset being a dumping ground for development. The big issue at the moment is with housing, particularly the government’s measure of the five-year housing land supply.”
Local authorities have to identify areas of land that developers can apply for permission to build on. Councils should meet government-set house building targets for five years ahead. If a local authority fails to achieve this, some established planning restrictions are relaxed, and developers could apply to build on green spaces which had not been intended for housing previously. “We see it as crude and singularly inappropriate. It encourages developers to go after sites which were already rejected by the local plan,” said Rupert.
Shaftesbury Neighbourhood Plan is separate to the Local Plan, which covers all of the former North Dorset district, but has stated that our town has taken more than its fair share of house building quota for the area.
Rupert agrees. “Shaftesbury has shouldered a greater burden than elsewhere. Undoubtedly, one of the problems has been that the Gillingham South extension, where they are proposing to build 1,800 houses, has not been a huge success so far. Developers don’t appear too keen to build the houses there that are meant to be there. In Blandford, which you could argue has escaped to some degree, they’re now proposing a 700-home development on the north side of the town. Blandford will be taking up some more of the burden that Shaftesbury seems to have carried before.”
Rupert says these development quotas are an issue for the CPRE across the country. “Nationally we can campaign, but there’s not much we can do locally. We tried with a meeting with Dorset Council and we were hoping to hear that they would be challenging government housing targets,” said Rupert. He describes those targets as ‘inflated’.
If the authorities insist on sticking to the home building quota, Rupert says they need to ensure that they are building housing that meets a genuine local need. “We are trying to make it clear that what we want is more social housing and generally affordable housing. That’s what people, wherever they live in North Dorset, really want. They need starter homes, not four- or five-bedroom executive homes. It’s a question of leaning on the council in this area,” he said.
Rupert doesn’t accept the view that affordable homes will necessarily be of lower build quality. “They can be just as well-built as full market price housing. If you look at the specifications that developers put into the housing applications, they are not that different. If we are going to have more housing, we should have a high percentage of social housing or generally affordable – not 80% but 60% of the market rate – housing.”
Few people will be enthused about the prospect of election campaigners knocking on the door, but Rupert believes that candidates seeking Shaftesbury’s votes should be quizzed about their stance on house-building policy. “Residents of North Dorset can make their views clear about what they feel about housing in Dorset to their prospective candidates,” he said.
Rupert is one of three guest speakers at the Civic Society event. ‘Focus on the Local’ will also include an overview of Shaftesbury Abbey’s summertime archaeological excavation works. Chairman Pete Ryley will summarise the SAVED project.
And Brie Logan, Business Manager of Shaftesbury Town Council, will answer questions about the Neighbourhood Plan, a blueprint for the town’s development. The 103-page document offers policies to help retain a vibrant high street, develop cycleways and footpaths, protect open spaces and preserve our steep slopes from large housing developments. Each of the policies in the plan was supported by at least 4 out of 5 of respondents during the recent consultation.
Shaftesbury Civic Society Chair, Jackie Upton King, says the ‘Focus on the Local’ theme has been chosen because, ‘It is where we can make a difference’. The event will be held upstairs in the Assembly Room at the Grosvenor Arms Hotel at 7.30pm on Thursday, 14th November.