Last month we wrote about the failings of Dorset Council’s (DC) draft Local Plan (LP) and its consultation process, but we could have said more on the Plan itself which is so very important, deciding the future development of Dorset until 2038. We will do now.
• The LP appears to be made up of a mishmash of various plans from the previous District Councils, already out-of-date. It offers no strategic options. 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 Covid, with its profound consequences for retailing and the hospitality, has not been factored in. The Council’s excuse is that they are under pressure from government but other councils are taking a more measured and consultative approach.
- The government’s housing requirement for Dorset is 30,000 new homes but DC officers have conceded that they are actually preparing for more with a housing supply figure of 39,000 homes, to allow for unmet need from Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) and the New Forest, although it has not been requested yet. Last year Dorset CPRE commissioned an independent report that heavily criticised the government’s Standard Housing Method (SHM). The government did state though in December 2020 that the SHM is a starting point for assessing housing need, not a target in plan making. There are plenty of examples of other local authorities, where adopted LP numbers are lower than the government’s SHM. Given the number of constraints facing Dorset, such as the Green Belt and the protected Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, why are DC proposing such a major increase over the last adopted Local Plans?
- North Dorset’s problems emanate from the allocation of 1,800 houses to the Gillingham Southern Extension in the old North Dorset LP, with none having been built yet. As a result of the loss of 5 year land supply, much speculative development has landed elsewhere. Residents here 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. Yet it offers no useful public transport, no doctor’s surgery, no secondary school, few retail or employment options and narrow constricted roads. One other option being offered is to build yet more homes in Gillingham. The Peacemarsh proposal might deliver 600 units too, despite poor infrastructure and serious flooding risk, hence the name.
- It is not easy navigating through the many documents, as the Plan covers much, such as transport, employment, the environment etc and not just housing. Most of the focus on housing is on the towns where more development is proposed. However if you live in a village, you can identify what Tier your village is placed in the Settlement Hierarchy, as this will determine the degree and type of development that might be expected. Even if there appear to be no allocations in your parish, watch out as there only 26,000 homes allocated formally in the Plan. Neighbourhood Plan Housing Requirements are shown in Appendix 2, but the Plan says clearly these are minimum figures! Small and medium-sized housing sites are shown in App.3, while new or extensions of existing Gypsy and Traveller sites are in App.4. It is curious that two thirds of the these happen to be in North Dorset in Marnhull, King’s Stag, Gillingham, Thornicombe, Enmore Green and Shaftesbury.
- 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. Yet there is no chapter on economic strategy to justify this.
- Insufficient consideration has been given to whether the Plan is compatible with DC’s declared climate emergency. There is much comment on the “need to enable better public transport services, promote active travel and reduce car dependency”. Besides wishful thinking that residents will walk and cycle more, there appears to be no strategy for improving public transport.
- There are serious omissions in the Wind Development Opportunities Report. DC say the potential locations shown could deliver 400 Gwh of renewable energy but there is no consideration of landscape restraints, so the target is risible. Overall we would like to see much greater focus on roof-mounted solar panels as a means to generate more renewable energy.
- Why has Blandford, the former administrative seat of North Dorset, been relegated to the South Eastern Functional Area? Is this a ploy for Blandford and surrounding villages to be set up as a dormitory town for BCP, and to support their need for housing? Local parish councils and the town are united in opposing this.
Residents of North Dorset still have until 15th March to respond, so please do now!
Rupert Hardy, Chairman, North Dorset CPRE