Sherborne’s housing dilemma: Ted Howells examines the proposed West Sherborne development and its implications for the town’s future
In recent months, there’s been a lot of debate about the issue of housing in Sherborne. During the last decade, the affordability, demographics and supply of housing in the town has evolved. Since 2010, property prices have increased by 46 per cent, with an average price tag today of more than £360,000. In this same period, the town’s population has risen to over 10,300 people, and in 2021 the proportion of socially rented households had increased, while home ownership through mortgages or shared ownership had decreased.
These societal shifts raise a fundamental question about Sherborne’s housing situation: but what’s the solution?
For Sherborne Town Council, the proposed West Sherborne development provides the answer. In April 2021, the town council agreed a collective response to the Dorset Local Plan consultation and ‘supported’ the West Sherborne development. It was widely expected that the Local Plan – which outlines the need for 30,000 new homes in Dorset by 2038 – would be adopted by late 2023, but it has since been delayed until 2026.
The concept of West Sherborne was devised by Sherborne Castles Estate, which encompasses some 15,000 acres of land, in-hand and tenanted farms, and a range of agricultural, residential and commercial properties. It includes Sherborne Castle, the 1,200 acre ancestral home of the Wingfield Digby family, which has owned the property and gardens for over 400 years.
It also includes the land to the north-west and western edges of Sherborne, earmarked for the proposed Sherborne West development.
Working with Chesters Harcourt, NEW Masterplanning, and Andrew Cameron & Associates, the Estate has put forward a vision for the creation ‘of a new masterplanned neighbourhood in the west of Sherborne’ on this land. It’s envisaged that the development would extend from Marston Road, across the A30 and down to Lenthay Road. So what exactly is being proposed?
According to the town council’s response, any development – such as West Sherborne – should entail ‘new housing units comprising a mixture of small and larger homes rather than 1,200 homes of equal sizes’.
It is proposed that the construction of 1,200 homes would be delivered in instalments, similar to the process of the Barton Farm development. The town council’s members also expressed their desire for 500 affordable homes to be introduced, which they claim ‘would mean the overall introduction of at least 1,500 homes’. Any such development would need to be delivered in co-ordination with Dorset Council to ensure ‘adequate local provision’.
The western side of Sherborne is an area which the town council acknowledges is situated away from the town centre and which lacks adequate infrastructure, as ‘the services are to the middle and to the East’. In addition, the location of the proposed development – especially extending south from Bradford Road to Lenthay Common – is known for its ‘high-water table and likelihood of flooding’.
To accommodate such a proposal on this scale would need adequate infrastructure. It would require additional educational facilities, as the state-run Gryphon school and Sherborne Abbey Primary School ‘are nearing capacity and may need to be expanded’.
It would also require the sufficient provision of healthcare and retail facilities to accommodate the increase in homes, along with a drainage system and good broadband.
In their response, town council members conceded that such a development would be ‘creating stress on the already busy [road] junctions within the town.’; this is particularly so when it is estimated that 1,200 homes would result in around 2,400 extra cars. To this extent, council members ‘support the proposals for the ‘civilising’ of the A30, with the potential to bring it down to a single carriageway as it approaches Sherborne to slow it down and reduce the potential for speeding.’ Members also endorsed proposals to electrify the local train network and consider new bus routes.
Sherborne Town Council has stated their support for ‘holistic development that ensures the future economic, social and environmental health of our community’.