Last week Blandford Town Council voted narrowly against a major new housing development of 600 dwellings sited north of the bypass, with up to 200 of them proposed in Pimperne parish. This was an historic upset as all expectations were for approval prior to the meeting. As Cllr. Carter, a Town Councillor and one of the key architects of the Blandford+ Neighbourhood Plan put it “the Plan is inextricably linked to this development”. However this is a deeply flawed application being actively promoted by Dorset Council and elements within Blandford, with scant regard for the consequences and the people of the area, especially Pimperne. After hearing speeches from Dorset CPRE, Pimperne Parish Council (PC) and the Blandford Allotment Society, councillors saw sense and voted 8-7 against on grounds of adverse environmental impact and concerns over access and highway safety. This follows objections by Pimperne and Stourpaine PCs, Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and North Dorset CPRE, with more likely to follow.
Supposedly North Dorset suffers from a housing supply shortage. This is the main reason for wanting to build this huge development along with the need for a new primary school in Blandford, which is expected be built from Section 106 proceeds paid by the developer, Wyatt Homes. It is bizarre logic to build more houses just to get a new school.
- First a recent independent report, Dorset’s Housing Needs, commissioned by Dorset CPRE, demolished the government’s Standard Housing Method for assessing local housing need. The government used 2014 household projections rather than later ones which suggest lower housing needs. Local Plan Housing Targets for the Dorset Council (DC) area are currently 24% lower than the government’s housing need target of 1,827 homes using 2014 household projections. There is clearly no need for new houses in Blandford itself as there is 11.5 years housing land supply at the current build rate, thanks to many new approved developments around the town, which is over twice the government housing target of 5 years. If only DC would stand up for Dorset rather than give in to demands from Westminster.
- Secondly the scale of this development means it is a strategic one, and should only progress as part of the Dorset-wide Local Plan formulation which is three years away at the earliest. The potential allocation of the site was considered through the Blandford Plus Neighbourhood Plan (NP), but the legality of the plan has been challenged and Dorset Council is currently seeking legal advice. The inclusion of an area of land within Pimperne parish, which would accommodate up to 200 houses, is not justified as it is contrary to the made Pimperne NP, which was voted on and offers protection, with the parish housing target only 39 dwellings for the period 2015-2031. The NP requires that any development should not reduce the gap between Blandford and Pimperne, which this proposal does.
- Thirdly there will be severe adverse visual impact on the Cranbourne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, as part of the site is within this, as well as the setting. This will be exacerbated by the sloping nature of the site, and the number of tall buildings which will be difficult to screen, with current provision totally inadequate. The AONB is now an International Dark Sky Reserve and all development should meet their criteria. The developer in its application has clearly not covered Lighting and its effects on Dark Skies properly.
- Fourthly the development is not sustainable, with the bypass having to be crossed to access the town, whose centre is not within walking distance. This will encourage the use of cars, as will the location of the school for parents living in Blandford, while residents of the new development will probably also convey their children by car as a major road separates it from the housing.
There are very limited employment opportunities in Blandford, so most seeking employment would head for Poole, thus more cars are likely to be used by new residents, causing more congestion.
There has been little attempt to address climate change, a key concern of Dorset Council. It beggars belief that a council that declares a climate emergency could then permit a development such as this.
- Fifthly noise from the bypass will impact seriously on properties close by. It is ironic that most of the so-called affordable homes will be located close to the bypass. Noise mitigation measures suggested here are frankly pathetic e.g. closing windows at night in noise-sensitive rooms.
- Another key issue is Highways. The A350, a strategic arterial route will suffer major congestion with a new roundabout and three new pedestrian crossings. Building new pedestrian bridges, to supplement the existing one, makes much more sense but is not cheap. The creation of another pedestrian crossing on the A354 on the Salisbury Road and another by the Bellway development will exacerbate the situation. The bypass will cease to function effectively and impact severely on the whole area.
- The allotments are going to be moved onto arable land. It will take many years of soil creation to produce fruit and vegetables on thin chalky land used for cereals. There are 140 affected allotment holders.
- The greatest irony of this development is that the new school is only envisaged for phase 2), with no guarantee it will go ahead, while 167 houses are being built as part of phase 1) and will be occupied by families who will put even more pressure on existing overcrowded schools within Blandford before the new school is built. Medical services are already under major strain as well.
Much of North Dorset will be affected by this development so it is critical that residents send a strong message of protest to Dorset Council and the government. Please post your comments on the Dorset planning portal without delay (https://www.dorsetcouncil.gov.uk/planning-buildings-land/planning/planning-application-search-and-comment.aspx) or email firstname.lastname@example.org Ref. P/OUT/2020/00026
Rupert Hardy, Chairman, North Dorset CPRE