The CPRE feels Dorset Council’s summary of responses to the consultation on the Draft Local Plan raises more questions than it answers, says Rupert Hardy, Chair of the North Dorset branch.
Dorset Council (DC) recently published a summary of responses to the consultation on the Draft Local Plan. Dorset CPRE is undertaking analysis of the responses and what they purport to show.
A community response
Firstly, the recently published summary of responses to the draft Local Plan (LP) has revealed overwhelming opposition to Dorset Council’s housing strategy, disguised as a misleadingly low number of responses. This was achieved by recording the submission of each town and parish council as a single response and by incorrect categorisation of many of their responses.
A search for answers to the question DEV1: Do you agree with the suggested approach and what it is trying to achieve? suggests only 460 responses, of whom 72% disagree.
Although this shows a rejection, it is highly misleading in number. Amongst the responses are
the names of Town and Parish Council Clerks, who represent over 108,000 residents between them.
Sorting the data
As statutory consultees, the views of Town and Parish Councils should be easily accessible; but the alphabetical listing of responses by first name, rather than surname, makes this more difficult. Discovering the true scale opposition to the LP is further complicated by the fact that responses are recorded in the name of individuals, rather than their organisations. Who would know that the Dorset CPRE response can only be found under the name of Chairman Peter Bowyer, or Jo Witherden – the Planning Consultant who put together our submission to the Draft Local Plan? All of this seems like an effort to hide the reality, or at best it is a poor collation.
Town by town
CPRE also found numerous examples of respondents who had comments to make on housing policy, but their comments have been recorded elsewhere. Places such as Wimborne Minster and Weymouth are unable to support the LP, but have confined their comments, understandably, to their own town.
CPRE identified the representatives of a further 124,000 residents of Dorset towns and villages, who do
not agree with the housing proposals.
Dorset CPRE will be requesting a meeting with the chairs of Dorset Council’s Planning Committees to outline their case that Dorset Council should claim exceptional circumstances to reduce the number of planned homes, following the example of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council.
Dorset’s Green Pastures Under Threat From Developers Secondly we analysed the responses relating to the
AONB. Some 56% of Dorset is designated as Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), more than any other county in England. Much of the housing proposed in the draft LP will be built either in or very close to AONB land, changing forever the county’s unique landscape and rich biodiversity. Research carried out by CPRE, the Countryside Charity, reveals that housing that has been approved in AONBs nationally, since 2017/18, is overwhelmingly large executive homes, with only 16% affordable housing. Dorset is one of the main authorities regularly surrendering green fields as opposed to brownfield sites.
Adverse impacts on AONB
Natural England and a number of neighbouring authorities are highly critical of the Dorset plan. For example, “Natural England considers there is limited scope for major new development within the Dorset AONB above that already allocated.” With reference to development at Blandford Forum, they state that “The scale and location of the development will inevitably result in residual adverse impacts on the Cranborne Chase AONB.”
By contrast, numerous developers’ submissions propose reducing the current protection of AONBs. Wyatt Homes suggests “these sites should not be excluded simply because the village is within the AONB”.
Persimmon Grainger admit that part of the proposed Dorchester development would have an impact on the setting
of the AONB, but promise to minimize any “specific, evidenced reports” by tree planting.
Dorset Council admits that the public interest test used to justify the release of AONB for major development is necessary to meet its excess housing target and Cllr David Walsh concedes it is ‘likely’ that protected areas will be affected by development. This means that town and parish councils who believe themselves protected from development are enjoying a false sense of security.
Town and parish councils who responded to the Dorset Draft Local Plan represent 287,000 voters.
Of these, 88% do not agree with the draft LP, which proposes over 4,500 homes in or within 250m of an AONB.
Dorset CPRE now calls for Dorset Council to acknowledge the overwhelming public opposition to the Local Plan and to accept that its findings put at risk the special areas of Dorset’s countryside. Accordingly, we believe it is now timely to revisit the whole Plan, especially in the light of recent statements by Michael Gove, who clearly signalled a shift towards greater recognition of AONBs as meriting special consideration in future development plans.
by Rupert Hardy, Chair, North Dorset CPRE