WHY DEMOLISHING NORDON IS MORE THAN AN ARCHITECTURAL DISASTER

A council decision to demolish Nordon House – an Edwardian building in the centre of a conservation area in Blandford –  has met with huge outcry from the local community as well as two outraged local councillors.

Dorset Council Councillors Byron Quayle and Noc Lacey-Clarke, who fought to keep Nordon and have plans recognised to create a visionary community hub, are determined to fight on for the town and have their vision realised.

In a joint opinion piece, they share their views to the digital Blackmore Vale:

The demolition of Nordon is an absolute travesty for Blandford. We could have used the site to do great things in the town. Some people just weren’t prepared to listen.

It speaks volumes when a cross-party committee in charge of making the decision whether to keep Nordon or demolish it, calls itself ‘The Nordon Disposal Board’. With a title like that, you can’t help but feel this was a done deal long before it came to a vote.  We would’ve had a lot more faith in the ‘Committee who may use this fantastic facility to do something good in Blandford!’ 

And when a venture with a developer is involved, commercial sensitivity means elements of reports can legally be kept confidential from councillors not on the committee. It’s our personal opinion that planning permission was presumed well before the planning committee decision but we have no evidence to support that unfortunately.

The reality is we are two councillors who’ve spent years fighting to protect Nordon, along with so many others in our community including the Town Council, Civic society and many residents. Determined to get the voices of Blandford people heard, we knocked on numerous doors to harvest opinions. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Nicci Brown, secretary of the Blandford Civic and District Society, we rallied a 2000-strong petition in favour of keeping the building.

There were numerous discussions with Historic England. Three times Blandford appealed for them to list the building to protect it. However, being Edwardian, Nordon House apparently didn’t deserve the listed protection that a Georgian building enjoys. The advice from Historic England was that Nordon wouldn’t win a costly legal challenge on the grounds of historic architectural value.

But what about the conservation area in which this building sat? An area that purposefully put Nordon at its heart to protect it. Look at the map and you’ll see there’s a square protecting Nordon.  Again our argument on conservation grounds was rebuffed – apparently it made no sense for an Edwardian building to be protected in this way!

With the help of our campaigning allies like Councillor Roger Carter, then Chairman of Blandford Forum Town Council, Blandford fought on. Ignored by our District Council, the matter was  escalated to central government, writing a letter to the Secretary of State. In this, the town defended the reasons why Nordon should stay at the heart of Blandford. Reasons so much more than architectural value alone.

Our vision, which we’ve been lobbying for since 2017, was to create a community hub at Nordon. With the council vacating the building, the fact local surgeries in the town were contemplating moving and Nordon still in public ownership, this was the perfect opportunity to merge crucial services in the town together under one roof. Even better – to a building that was at the geographical centre of the town and easier to get to for many in the community.

This community hub could incorporate adult and children services, the local library, surgeries and even the town council could have moved there. Co-ordinated facilities bought together in an existing building at the geographical heart of the town – such a workable idea. And a win-win when you consider the large capital receipt gained by freeing up other buildings.

Blandford struggles with space for pop-up businesses due to high street rents. So why not use Nordon to allow budding entrepreneurs to promote themselves in a free space? We even had plans for better transport infrastructure to offer more parking in that area. Joined up thinking that could have transformed lives but time and again our very raised voices were ignored. No amount of different opinion would sway, including the 2000 names on the petition.

Knocking down one house that has a lot of history is sad but missing out on the opportunity to bring so many services together with a joined-up, new way of thinking is criminal. The possibilities were endless.

In the North Dorset Planning meeting on 26th February 2019, the fate of Nordon was sealed, with a vote of seven in favour to demolish and two against. Twenty members of the public attended – significantly less than the 2000 on the petition but that’s in fact a large turn-out for a planning meeting, especially when you consider it was held way out in Durweston Village Hall and half way through the day. We’d like to thank all those people for their support in campaigning and those that attended the meeting.

The reason the planning permission was accepted was a finely balanced argument with the negatives for knocking down the building outweighed by the positive appeal of 40 affordable houses being built. But what is affordable housing? It’s a legal term defining houses 20% below market value. That’s still not affordable for many of us living in Blandford. 

We’d like to see more truly affordable housing for the people of Blandford, many already struggling with some of the highest taxes in the country.  We need to be looking at how we can protect and help the most vulnerable in our community – low income, young families, single people trying to work and live in Blandford. We see more people needing support of foodbank services. Many in our community are only just getting by.

The new accommodation has been hailed as a “legacy for the town.” This is not a legacy. It’s an absolute disaster for Blandford. It will be hard for the Council to look back and say this was a good decision. It’s not. It’s a huge missed opportunity for the people of Blandford.

We believe the decision to demolish Nordon, which was taken just before the LGR (Local Government Reorganisation) of Dorset’s Councils, would not have gone through today with the new “big picture” council structure.  In fact, none of the councillors that voted for the planning permission were re-elected in 2019.

As councillors, we get a lot of anger from people disenfranchised by the whole situation. Sadly, that is often stoked by people who care more about point scoring rather than about doing good for Blandford. As to the comments on social media and repeated suggestions of bribes in brown envelopes, the only pleasure one of us had was to receive dog faeces through our letterbox!

It’s difficult being a politician – people want to take their frustrations out on the bigger picture and you are that emblem of that bigger picture locally.  People on social media are quick to criticise without knowing the full background.

Blandford is our boss and we want to do the best for the town. Yes, it needs to expand and grow and of course not all decisions are liked by everyone. But now our town has lost a potential shining jewel and we’re left with an angry community and need to pick up the pieces

Nordon is an outrage. We got into politics to make a change and help Blandford. We’re just as frustrated as everyone else at this missed opportunity. We cannot do anything to over- turn it. Sadly. So now, we move forward. We make sure Blandford is safeguarded and look to the future.

Nordon may have been a good option but won’t have been the only option. We will find a way to win and make our vision a reality. This Nordon debacle is one of the reasons we both get up in the morning  –  to do battle for Blandford.

Once more into the breach dear friends!

By: Tracie Beardsley

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