Rural Matters

THE FAILINGS OF DORSET’S LOCAL PLAN

Many people will be aware that Dorset Council (DC) has initiated the consultation process for its new Local Plan (LP), and this will run until 15th March. This Plan is very important as it will decide the future development of Dorset until 2038. However it has serious shortcomings.

The emerging LP appears to be made up of a mishmash of various plans from the previous District Councils, already out-of-date. It consists of c.2,000 pages of unmanageable documents, which most residents will not read. Recent caveats may have been inserted into the Plan, but clearly the impact of Brexit and Covid – with its profound consequences for retailing and the hospitality sector – have not been factored in. Why rush when the government’s much criticised Planning White Paper has not been agreed yet? When it is, we expect it to force through dramatic changes to the planning system.

Shillingstone house building site – Image: CPRE

We realise that the consultation process will be limited due to Covid-19 restrictions, but we do question the absence of engagement over its scope. There is little discussion of realistic strategy options. Where does it cover the question of “housing need”? Residents are being consulted over the siting of developments, but not whether Dorset needs 30,000 new houses.  DC is kow-towing to central government over housing targets, insisting that numbers are non-negotiable.  Last year Dorset CPRE commissioned an independent report, Dorset Housing Need Evidence ( https://dorset-cpre.org.uk/news/current-news/item/download/787) that heavily criticised the government’s Standard Housing Method.

The LP compares unfavourably with the approach of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, who are consulting on Issues and Options.   Dorset’s LP should contain a list of alternative strategic options to trigger a meaningful discussion with the public and parish/town councils. Instead it suggests a fait accompli in strategic terms. The Sustainability Assessment appears rushed and inadequate.

Looking at specifics, one extraordinary feature of this Plan is its bold reliance on a DC forecast of 21,000 new full-time jobs being created over the twenty years to 2038. There is no chapter on economic strategy to justify this.

Despite the allocation of 1,800 houses to the Gillingham Southern Extension in the old NDDC Local Plan, none have been built yet.   As a result of the loss of the 5 year land supply, much speculative development has landed elsewhere.   North Dorset residents now face thousands more homes being built over their beautiful countryside. DC have targeted Stalbridge in particular with a housing allocation of 610 more homes.

We urge DC to extend the consultation period in the light of critical omissions and the impact of Covid-19, but we would also encourage everyone to fully engage in the consultation and share your concerns. Let Dorset Council know what you want for your family and Dorset.

Rupert Hardy, Chairman North Dorset CPRE

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