Blandford’s Crown Meadows plan – an act of philanthropy or a Trojan horse?

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PLANS to site up to 40 caravans as temporary homes for Ukrainian refugees on land known locally as Crown Meadows on the western boundaries of Blandford Forum have divided public opinion in the town and will now go to appeal, after Dorset Council planners failed to decide the application. A date for a site visit by the inspector who will decide the scheme is yet to be announced. Gay Pirrie Weir reports.

The application was submitted by the Rothermere Foundation and Bryanston (RFE) Ltd (which is not connected to Bryanston School), and refers to land reached from Deer Park Lane, owned by the Foundation and overlooked by the school grounds. It is part of the Crown Estate land bought by the Foundation in 2015.

“The Crown Estate has agreed the sale of the Bryanston Estate in Dorset to a UK company held on behalf of the Viscount Rothermere and his son the Hon Vere Harmsworth for an undisclosed sum. The purchase is consistent with the family’s long-term strategy to diversify its investment holdings. The 4,700 acre Bryanston Estate, purchased in 1950 from the Portman family, lies to the north west of Bournemouth at Blandford Forum in Dorset. The largely agricultural estate is predominantly comprised of 14 farm tenancies and around 40 residential properties.   
The Crown Estate June 2015

Blandford's Crown Meadows - the planned caravan site for Ukrainian refugees
The Crown Meadows site, where planing has been applied for the siting of up to 40 caravans, together with the formation of ancillary bases, tracks, services communal amenity/green space, play areas, landscaping and bin store

The land was transferred from Crown ownership to the Rothermeres three years after it had been at the centre of an impassioned campaign in the town. The Crown Estate applied for permission to build up to 200 new homes on the Deer Park Farm site, in accordance with the (then) North Dorset District Council’s new core strategy, which was under discussion in early 2013. Two petitions circulated in the town and surrounding area, and were signed by more than 6,000 objectors, most citing threats to wildlife and amenities, but primarily to dangers of flooding when the Stour bursts its banks. One petition said the scheme “failed to respect Blandford’s iconic setting.”

Crown Meadows has a contentious planning history in the town, and when the latest application, for temporary homes for Ukrainian refugees, was submitted, old worries quickly surfaced.  

Aerial view of Blandford's Crown Meadows planned development scheme
The planned site is known locally as a water meadow, suffering from flooding whenever the Stour breaks its banks in the winter months

The current application, for “change of use of land for the stationing of up to 40 No. caravans to provide temporary accommodation for up to 5 years, together with the formation of ancillary bases, tracks, services communal amenity/green space, play areas, landscaping and bin stores. Provide low-level lighting to tracks and common areas. Convert redundant agricultural building to an amenity block and community area,” sat on planners’ desks for longer than the permitted period, and at the request of the applicants it has now been called in by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – Michael Gove at the time of writing.

The call-in has been welcomed by North Dorset MP Simon Hoare, who opposes the scheme and accuses the Rothermere Foundation of riding in on a Trojan Horse in the guise of a philanthropic foal (read his full letter to the Inspectorate here).

Simon Hoare MP objects to the Crown Meadows planning application
In his letter of objection, North Dorset MP Simon Hoare calls the planned scheme “The creation of a linked-to-nowhere caravan ghetto” and the “planning version of Apartheid”

Mr Hoare told the BV: “The key thing is the inappropriateness of the provision at Crown Meadows. We simply do not ghetto-ise by nationality. Having 40 Ukrainians effectively plonked in a small, isolated settlement would be appalling. The lack of both integration and support are unacceptable – it’s the thin end of the terrifying wedge that is ‘certain people can live here, but not there’. As I said in my letter to the Inspectorate, it is the planning version of Apartheid.”

“I feel this is simply a chance-your-arm Trojan Horse – thinly covered by a veil of philanthropy.” 

The MP continued: “In fairness, he (Lord Rothermere) is no doubt keen to help, but there are so many things he could do that would be faster and more effective. He could buy many actual homes that could house up to 40 families – a fantastic gesture, he’d retain ownership of the capital assets and it would be a swift solution.

Mr Hoare welcomed the site visit: “It’s excellent news. It’s hugely important in this case in order for the inspectorate to see and study the locality and the linkages. They can see in real time the parcel of land, and hopefully arrive at the same conclusions as my constituency – that help is great, but the site is wrong.

“The development is in the wrong place, but also sits wrongly in the broader refugee settlement policy. I do not use the words apartheid and ghetto lightly – but it is effectively ethnic grouping. We are saying ‘These people must live here, outside the community.’

Blandford's Crown Meadows Deer Park Farm plan
The outline Blandford’s Crown Meadows / Deer Park Farm plan

“As a side note, it would also be a freestanding magnet to any who oppose migrants and refugees – we have seen how this can play elsewhere in the country.”

Dorset council received a large number of letters from Blandford residents and those from surrounding areas, most of them objecting to the proposal at Crown Meadows. 

The closing date for submission of letters for the appeal is 20th March, 2023.

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