Is North Dorset overwhelmed with housing developments?

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The fast-burgeoning rate of new housing developments in Dorset is a hot topic for many local Facebook groups – Rachael Rowe investigates

Prices start at £292,995 on a typical recent local development of two, three and four-bedroom homes.

You don’t have to travel far in the Blackmore Vale to see a large building site and people in high viz jackets. It seems that almost every town and village has a housing development.
There is no doubt that new homes are required – there are currently 3,600 people on the Dorset housing register waiting for a home – but are we getting the right type of home, where it is needed? And is North Dorset overwhelmed with housing developments?

There have been 55 planning applications for developments of more than 20 houses in the past three years in North Dorset, which would provide more than 4,600 homes. Parish councils, and the majority of existing residents, understand the need to build more homes and for affordable new housing. However, most North Dorset residents could probably name somewhere developments have been agreed upon, and then along comes another planning application. Although a parish or town council objects, almost all are granted on appeal.


So what is happening with Dorset planning?

Cllr David Walsh leads on planning at Dorset Council, where a lot of work goes on behind the scenes to manage the situation.
‘We don’t currently have a five-year housing land supply and are not building at the rate expected by the government. So if a planning application is refused, the developers will automatically appeal.
‘At appeal, the Planning Inspectorate will immediately look to see whether the land supply is fulfilled – if it isn’t, they will grant the application. So smart developers target areas with an insufficient five-year housing land supply.
‘In North Dorset, we gave a lot of weight to the Southern Extension in Gillingham. However, these numbers should not have been able to carry so much weight for a 15-year development.’
One of the biggest concerns of many people over new developments is the lack of infrastructure required to support additional housing, such as roads and schools. Cllr Walsh continued: ‘The Southern Extension of Gillingham is the highest density housing allowed. So we insisted on having a new access road before any development occurred. We need to work differently, so the infrastructure is already in place to support new developments.’
Cllr Graham Carr-Jones is the lead at Dorset Council for housing. ‘The number of houses is not a problem. It’s the type of supply. Many of the houses being developed are for the market, whereas affordable solutions are what’s needed, to accommodate local key workers, for example.’
But how many houses are too many? Cllr Carr-Jones continued. ‘I have been to every appeal in Stalbridge, which has had a large amount of development in recent years.
We can’t stop developers from putting in appeals. And it all starts with the landowner.
‘My frustration is massive, and I know we need the homes.’
Some parishes have developed neighbourhood plans, but how valid are they in the current climate? David Walsh thinks they are useful: ‘Within the National Planning Policy Framework requirements, they are worth less, but not worthless.’
Chief Executive of North Dorset CPRE Rupert Hardy also has concerns. ‘We know that Dorset Council’s Local Plan was way too ambitious when it stated a need of 39,000 homes, and thankfully that figure is being reassessed. But there’s now a lot of new housing in Shaftesbury and Blandford – which is also now facing an application for an additional 500 new homes.’

Under Gillingham’s Southern Extension plans, around 1,800 new homes will be built between now and 2033, along with new roads, schools and employment units.

Are they the right type of homes?

Looking around at the many new developments, it’s easy to see that some are very uniform, with lots of semi-detached houses, while others have larger detached homes.

What I’m desperate to see are first-home schemes, where houses are discounted to 60 per cent of the market value and made available only to local people. They will then remain at that value in perpetuity.’

Cllr Graham Carr-Jones

What should be constructed locally to suit the needs of the population? A recent report by the Centre for Policy Studies shows that there is insufficient brownfield land for the number of homes required nationally. The report also indicates that although house prices and rental charges have increased significantly, the UK’s buildings themselves are smaller than the average size in other western European countries.
Concentrating on the housing needs of North Dorset, Cllr Carr-Jones says: ‘We need social housing and we need genuinely affordable homes. Shared ownership is an option. However, some “affordable” homes are actually unaffordable to local working people. What I’m desperate to see are first-home schemes, where houses are discounted to 60 per cent of the market value and made available only to local people. They will then remain at that value in perpetuity.’
Rupert Hardy wants to see different types of housing proposed. ‘Most developers are hell-bent on building four-bedroom executive homes. North Dorset needs more social housing, retirement homes and shared ownership schemes. And it would help if new builds were sited within walking or cycling distance of communities to reduce the need for cars. We’d also like to see Dorset Council increase solar panels on roofs and aim for net zero on new housing developments.’

The new Violet Cross development in Hazelbury Bryan exceeded planning conditions, providing 100 per cent affordable housing.

One developer providing 100 per cent affordable housing

With all the new homes appearing in North Dorset, just how popular are they? Violet Cross in Hazelbury Bryan is a new development of 21 houses. Twelve offer shared ownership and the remainder are let at affordable rents, some of them targeted at people with a local connection. Planning permission was awarded to the Dorset-headquartered AJC Group for a collection of 13 open market homes and eight affordable dwellings (40 per cent).
However, the company has an ambition to change the face of social housing, and AJC Group worked with developers Abri to provide 100 per cent affordable housing across the scheme.
David Cracklen, director of AJC Group, said: ‘We are extremely proud of this partnership project. Working together with Abri, we transformed a derelict brownfield site into 21 eco-focused new homes, in line with our aim and vision to produce higher quality affordable homes in line with the housing needs of underserved rural communities.’ The people interested in these houses are couples and families aged between 25 and 50.
Sam Stone, associate director of land and planning at Abri, said: ‘We know the importance of affordable homes in meeting local needs, particularly in more rural locations which frequently command higher house prices, and when it comes to buying, people that have been renting locally are often priced out of their countryside location.
We hope these homes in Hazelbury Bryan will allow more local people to get their foot on the property ladder without having to leave the area. Violet Cross is a great example of how a former brownfield site that was derelict for eight years can be redeveloped for the benefit of the whole community.’
Graham Carr-Jones visited the Norden housing development in Blandford Forum when the first occupants were moving in: ‘One young woman said she had purposely chosen one of these homes in the centre of town so that she didn’t live somewhere that had recently been a green field. She had really thought about the impact of her purchase.’
With large numbers on the housing register, and a need to attract key workers into North Dorset, there is an urgent, demonstrable need for more affordable housing.
However, there are opportunities for local communities to influence the types of housing provided, by encouraging affordable and sustainable options.

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