Shaftesbury’s Mayor has condemned Persimmon’s attitude toward the community and its customers during Thursday’s public meeting to discuss their new planning application.
Shaftesbury Civic Society’s Jackie Upton King asked Shaftesbury Town Council to oppose plans to build 135 homes on land to the south of the A30 Salisbury Road. That’s because the site is earmarked for employment uses.
“It feels as though we have been railroaded this evening by the speed of the processing of this application, and we would urge the Town Council to prevent Persimmon from taking our employment land,” said Jackie.
The Town Council apparently listened. Mayor Piers Brown said he wanted to ‘tell the world’ about Shaftesbury’s poor experience with the controversial construction giant. “Persimmon has treated their own customers in contempt, in a lot of cases,” said Piers. “There are people within this town that don’t have roads outside of their homes after years of living in a property. They are effectively paying council tax twice, as they are being forced into using management companies who do things that Persimmon refused to do.”
Persimmon’s representative, Joe Maphosa, who had presented the company’s plans in the public meeting, listened on as the Mayor’s firm rebuttal continued. “People are living in homes which, in some cases, will not last the lifetime of the mortgage they took out when it was new. To me that is unacceptable, both for the residents and the future residents of Shaftesbury. And any future Council should bear that in mind when they make a decision to grant permission to Persimmon Homes,” said Piers.
“I don’t trust them,” the Mayor continued. “They’re out there to make money for their shareholders. That’s fair enough. But as the Town Council, our ‘shareholders’ are the people of Shaftesbury and we’re going be looking after their best interests.”
Mr Maphosa politely declined ThisisAlfred’s invitation to record an interview offering his response to both the planning issues raised and the strong anti-Persimmon sentiment expressed in the meeting. He is not permitted to record interviews.
Shaftesbury Town Council is consulted on planning matters but the power lies with Dorset Council. They will decide whether Persimmon’s plan is approved or not. Even so, the Town Council must give a valid planning reason for opposing an application. “That’s why we have provided a load of other reasons around the lack of employment land and compromising the long term sustainability of the local area,” Piers said.
Joe Maphosa rejected suggestions that Persimmon had been opportunistic in submitted plans, at a time when the new unitary council was settling in. He said his company had been talking with the former North Dorset District Council since 2016.
Mr Maphosa made it clear that the ‘principle of landscape change’ on the site had been agreed. It is likely that it will be built on at some point, although the contaminated land will have to be cleaned at a cost of around £500,000.
The outline application sets out a broad plan for the site and he explained that specifics would be agreed further down the line. For that reason, he could not commit to the inclusion of electric vehicle charging points, when questioned. That would be up to the Council to discuss, he said.
Persimmon had introduced 135 homes into the mix of site uses. Many speakers in the meeting were unhappy that a section of employment land would be lost. Town Council candidate, Jane Unwin, said that housing land commanded higher prices. Persimmon had bought cheaper land, which was designated for commercial use, and she felt that they would now benefit from more lucrative home building.
But Joe Maphosa said Permission, ‘wasn’t making a killing’ and would have to pay an ‘overage’ fee to the land vendor in respect of any mark-up. And he confirmed that 41 of the homes would be classed as affordable rental properties. Prospective Dorset Council candidate, Peter Yeo, asked how many homes would be for sale? Joe said that was to be decided by the Council.
Jackie Upton King claimed that, ‘this is over-development of the worst kind. We’ve almost met our targets to 2031. We do not need any more homes’. Cllr Lester Taylor agreed that it felt as if Persimmon wanted to ‘cram in’ housing.
Jane Unwin said that extensive development had changed ‘the character of the town’. She believes that there is pressure on the town’s infrastructure and she claimed that, ‘you cannot see a doctor. You have to predict whether you are going to be ill in three weeks’.
But developers do contribute, and arguably have to ‘pay’ NHS, education services and Councils in respect of their planning permission. Persimmon’s application documentation includes correspondence from Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust last month, requesting £100,000 from Persimmon toward the A&E and planned care costs of new residents, if the homes are built.
Mrs Upton King drew attention to site plans that she believes suggest the development’s roads could be linked to the adjacent land, which runs alongside the Upper Blandford Road. An application by Robert Tizzard’s Shaftesbury LVA company, to build 55 homes on this green field land, was recently refused. “We suspect that if Persimmon had approval for this scheme, for 135, an application will quickly be made for between 55 and 120 homes on the land next door,” said Jackie.
Persimmon justified their addition of homes as part of the scheme for the employment land through the use of statistics and by claiming that there was a lack of suitable interest. Joe Maphosa said that this commercial land had remained undeveloped for the ‘best part of fifteen years’. Employment land was more desirable where transport links were better, such as Gillingham or Poole, he said. Although some small occupiers have shown interest, no viable development proposals had come forward.
But prospective town councillor Steve Clinch challenged that remark. Mr Clinch claimed that two of his family contacts had been in touch with the agents to express interest in the A30 site. Joe promised to find out why Persimmon was unaware of those enquiries. Cllr Brown suggested that a sign advertising the availability of the commercial land ‘might be a start’.
There had been discussion over starter units on the site and Mr Maphosa spoke of Shaftesbury’s entrepreneurial spirit. But that seemingly positive remark was rapidly overshadowed when Joe said that the town did not have the skills to support a larger employment site. Mayor Piers was fuming and demanded an apology.
“It was an inappropriate comment for Persimmon Homes to make,” Piers said. “The people of Shaftesbury have skills. They are more than capable of getting new ones and we should be investing in our local community to help all of our community, being able to work as locally as possible to where they live.”
Mr Maphosa used statistics to support the inclusion of housing on the employment land. He quoted an oversupply of employment land locally. But Cllr Tim Cook revealed that the quoted data considers employment land allocation and provision within the much larger Functional Economic Market Area. “It stretches down to Poole,” said Tim. “The figures are based on a possible oversupply in Poole, Bournemouth or anywhere in between.” And Tim doubted whether data provided by the former North Dorset District was useful. “They don’t see life in Shaftesbury from within Shaftesbury,” he said.
Cllr George Hall said that three of the town’s largest employers wanted extra space. He would not reveal their names to Persimmon’s representative in a public meeting but he didn’t think that the developer had asked around town or ‘asked the right people’.
“We have anecdotal evidence from a survey the Chamber of Commerce did about a year ago, where approximately 50% of their members wanted to upsize,” added Piers Brown. “Business is doing great in Shaftesbury, but we need to support them. And therefore we need to fight for this employment. And that’s what the Town Council is going to do.”
Cllr John Lewer said that he had not heard any evidence of a local oversupply of employment land. Piers voiced his fears that, without using employment land for its intended purpose, Shaftesbury could become a dormitory town that people drove from to reach their place of work. He’d heard people say that they ‘just slept’ in the town.
“That, to me, is crushing because Shaftesbury is a great place to live,” said Piers. “We want them to have more free time in the evening after work because they’re not commuting for an hour each way. There are always going to be people who have specialist skills, who are going to have to travel. Persimmon’s argument is based around their interpretation of whether the site is deliverable. Well, let’s build it in stages and build as required.”
Mr Maphosa said that the site would include businesses. Up to 385 jobs could be created on the site after construction, he revealed. Prospective Dorset councillor, Steve Unwin, asked how many jobs would be created if all the land was used for employment. Those figures had not been calculated, Joe said.
Persimmon had agreed on terms with a hotel, subject to planning permission. No names were given, but Travelodge’s website reveals an interest in developing a new property in either Shaftesbury or Blandford. The13-metre high hotel building would be the tallest on the site and possibly one of the first to go up.
There could be around 1,300sqm of non-food retail floorspace or a care home. There were two interested home operators in discussion with Persimmon’s people. Joe confirmed, when questioned by Tim Cook, that neither was based in North Dorset.
Steve Clinched questioned the need for more provision of accommodation for elderly. He said that the new Churchill development appeared to be only half-sold and the retirement homes on the former ATS site had been, seemingly, mothballed.
Persimmon has included a primary school in their site proposal but its proximity to the corridor of land reserved for a by-pass, and its location to the south of the busy A30, didn’t please some commentators. Some speakers believed the inclusion of a school in the first place was a cynical attempt to gain local support and unlikely to materialise.
“The offer of a new primary school is not an offer that Persimmon can make. Dorset Council has already made it clear that such a scheme is not under current consideration,” Mrs Upton King said. Piers Brown echoed the view, adding, “My mind is cast back to the primary school that Persimmon Homes offered when The Maltings estate was put forward, all those years ago.” Prospective Dorset councillor, Lester Dibben, added that the proposed school wasn’t big enough anyway.
In ‘turning down’ the plans, the Town Council has recorded its disapproval. If Dorset Council disagrees and approves the application, Shaftesbury Town Council wants to negotiate some key points with Persimmon. They want to agree that roads would be built to ‘adoptable’ standards, meaning the Council could take them on. The also want the creation of safe walking and cycling routes to Cann Common and links to the town’s green infrastructure.
Open Spaces group member John Parker shared his request for a landscaped boulevard along the A30, with planting to screen the development, which he wants set back at least 5 to 10 metres from the road.
Piers believes the Town Council can still agree a good outcome in discussions with Persimmon, even after being so critical of the firm. “I think we have mutual respect between the individuals that are representing them and the Council here. And they’re saying that after this meeting this evening, they want to continue to have that dialogue, so we can work together to make the scheme as good as we can from a Town Council perspective – if it was to be granted planning permission,” he said.
But after the meeting Cllr Tim Cook questioned whether a small town council really has any clout against a construction giant that reported profits of £1billion last year. “I have a horrible feeling that this is a done deal, that decisions may not have been made formally but have been agreed between parties. What we have seen here this evening is just an exercise in PR, rather than an exercise to find out the actual needs of the community.”
The Town Council turned down Persimmon’s plan due to a lack of Shaftesbury-area evidence for not requiring all of the employment land. The councillors also objected because they were not satisfied that there was evidence for a need for more housing for the Shaftesbury area. They were also unconvinced by the school location and they did not believe that the current need had been demonstrated.
There are elections for Shaftesbury Town Council on May 2nd 2019. Candidates are listed here:
There are elections for Dorset Council on May 2nd 2019. Shaftesbury town candidates are listed here: