Shaftesbury’s draft Neighbourhood Plan was launched online and in hard copy at selected town centre locations today. The blueprint proposes guidelines for the town’s development, up until 2031.
Alfred spent the morning in the project’s High Street pop-up shop to find out which issues interested and engaged locals.
“It’s been a really interesting morning. We’ve had a really good number of people through and many different questions,” said Brie Logan, Shaftesbury Town Council’s Business Manager. “Interestingly, probably 95% to 98% of people that have come through the doors today didn’t know what a Neighbourhood Plan was. It’s been great to be able to bring the plan to life and to share it with them,” Brie said.
She has overseen the plan for the Town Council, and she’s supported the plan volunteers. Since February 2018, a group of eight residents has been working together to produce this draft document. The plan is a 103-page volume, filled with maps, charts, surveys and photos. It suggests policies to meet Shaftesbury’s needs over the next twelve years.
“Policies have been developed around five key themes, which the community and the previous Neighbourhood Planning Group told us were important to them. They are housing and employment, the town centre itself, green infrastructure and another set of policies around design and heritage and community and leisure,” said Brie.
This draft document has been shaped by responses from locals who were asked previously about the town’s evolution. Official statistics, guidelines and research have also been incorporated into the policies and the weighty appendices which accompany the document. Now, you’re being asked to read the full plan – or a quick-read, cut-down version – to decide whether you agree or disagree with this future vision for Shaftesbury.
Resident Susan Cook spent time flicking through a copy of the plan and she read the panels and town maps papering the pop-up shop walls, which outline the proposals. She was impressed. “I think it’s absolutely amazing to have something like this. I can’t believe how much work has gone into it. It’s so thorough and it’s so brilliantly explained with the little quick reads if you haven’t got time, which nobody has, to go through the whole document. You can zone in on the bit that you’re interested in and find out very quickly what’s going on,” said Susan.
Mrs Cook was one of a stream of visitors who called into 37 High Street to share views and to ask questions during the morning. Many of the concerns raised were outside the Neighbourhood Plan’s remit. Two locals complained about out-of-area residents being offered affordable homes in Shaftesbury, but that’s entirely a decision for the landlords.
There was also upset at the sale of the cattle market to Lidl, but that deal has been done. Concerns were voiced over the state of the roads on the eastern development. Again, the Neighbourhood Plan has no enforcement role and lacks the power to change decisions that have been made already. But the plan could determine what any future housing project that planners approve looks like, because it offers precise guidelines about appropriate building styles, landscaping and green spaces.
“What the Neighbourhood Plan will deliver is how those houses are built, the design, the density, the type of materials that need to be used and that will give the decision-makers far more clarity in terms of the expectations of the community,” explained Brie.
Dorset Council and other agencies will still need to keep a watch as development progresses and they will need to ensure that rules are adhered to. Arguably, there hasn’t always been strong enforcement in Shaftesbury.
In a nutshell, the Neighbourhood Plan is there to inform planners and developers who might never have set foot in the town, what Shaftesbury people want. If adopted, it will be an official policy document with guidelines that developers and the Planning Department have to consider.
“It’s giving you very simple language. It’s not all technical terms. It’s really easy to understand. It’s really important that we understand that we need to communicate with the Planning Departments, not just think of them in an antagonistic way. This is a brilliant bridge between the community and planning,” Susan said.
The UK Government decides how many homes must be built in each area, including North Dorset. The Neighbourhood Plan is not allowed to refuse or ban a proposed development, no matter how strong local feeling is. The document has made locals’ frustrations about more housebuilding clear. “We think that Shaftesbury has shouldered its share of the North Dorset District Council – now Dorset Council – quota,” said Brie. “I think it’s really important to remember that we can’t refuse any more housing because we don’t have that authority. But if more housing is imposed on Shaftesbury through home building targets, we believe that the existing development should be given time to bed down. The town needs to be given breathing space to adjust the demands placed on its infrastructure.”
Many residents have also stated they don’t want the current edge of housing development, known as the settlement boundary, extended outwards because it would allow building on what is currently open, green fields and countryside. “In the consultation that was conducted in February, it became very clear that a lot of people wanted us to protect the settlement boundary,” said Brie. Locals didn’t want any flexibility, even for affordable houses outside the settlement boundary. “We’ve shaped the content of our plan accordingly,” she added.
The Neighbourhood Plan team don’t want any homes built on land to the east of the Persimmon estate. They suggest that this by-pass corridor, a stretch of open land between the A30 Salisbury and the A350 near Littledown, is kept clear of development. “The policy relating to the bypass corridor preserves and protects that land,” said Brie, who added that if Dorset Council finds the money to build a bypass, there will be an available route. Policies in the plan also offer the town’s green slopes some protection from developers.
“It would be great if people could come along to the pop-up shop, where we can bring the policies and the Neighbourhood Plan to life,” said Brie. “It is a great opportunity for people to learn more about what we’ve been working on in the last year and a half. And also, to have their feedback on which policies they like and which ones they don’t like. We’ll also be asking those people that don’t like the policies why they don’t like them, so that we can then take on board all of that feedback and amend them where appropriate.”
The policies that you will read at the pop-up shop and in the draft plan are not set in stone. ” That’s why it’s the draft policies at this stage. We will take on board any of the feedback that we get,” said Brie.
Brie says all policy changes still need to meet government guidelines. “All of our policies have to fit with the National Planning Policy Framework. We will make sure that any amendments still fit those criteria,” she explained.
Residents of Shaftesbury will receive more details through the door. “On 16th August, we have planned for a mail drop of information leaflets to go to every household within the Shaftesbury parish. It will explain all about the Neighbourhood Plan, what it is, and how their community can have their chance of feeding back on the policies. The leaflet will also help those readers to understand how they can complete a questionnaire, either online, in the pop-up shop or at any of the hubs, which are the Library, Arts Centre and Town Hall.”
The pop-up shop will open at various times inside the former ‘Fork and Flowers’ shop, until the third week in September. Precise opening times are displayed on the door. “There are fifteen days scheduled throughout the month of August and the final session is on Friday 20th September,” said Brie.
When that’s done and people have offered their feedback, the Neighbourhood Plan still won’t be an official planning document. “Once we’ve completed this consultation exercise we’ll be analysing all of the feedback we’ve received to date. That will then be incorporated into the document where appropriate. Then it will be sent off to the local Planning Authority for their views and their feedback. The plan will then go through a very robust inspection process. Then we’ll be going back to the community to ask their views on whether the plan should be adopted or not. That’s known as the referendum,” said Brie.
You can find out more and read the plan at ShaftesburyPlan.co.uk.