The draft Local Plan for the whole of Dorset, published in January, has attracted wide concern across the county because of the sheer scale of proposed development – over 39,000 new houses between now and 2038, new industrial estates, roads and other infrastructure. In Dorset CAN’s formal response, submitted in March, we pointed to the impact which this would have on the landscape and natural resources of the County, encroaching on the Green Belt and the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and making heavy use of greenfield land, including a proposed estate of 3,500 homes on the north side of Dorchester. It would add greatly to the challenge of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to zero, which is the central aim of Dorset Council’s Climate Strategy, published only 3 months before the Local Plan.
So, we called on Dorset Council to ‘Re-think the Plan’, cut the number of new houses to 20,000, avoid encroachment on the Green Belt, avoid heavy use of greenfield land, and use more ‘brownfield’ land in the towns. We followed this with public questions to Dorset Council meetings, receiving only ‘stonewall’ replies from Councillor David Walsh, Cabinet member responsible for the Plan. So, we decided to launch a campaign to pressurise the Council towards re-thinking. We wished this campaign to be realistic; and therefore asked the leading Council officials for a meeting so that we can understand what is driving the proposals in the Plan.
On 14 June, a team of four from Dorset CAN – Rob Waitt, Michael Dower, Giles Watts and Rosemary Lunt – had a Zoom meeting with Hilary Jordan, Service Manager for Spatial Planning and Terry Sneller, Strategic Planning Manager. This meeting was candid and friendly. The officers made plain that local planning authorities are required by the Government to support the drive towards building houses, and must use the Government’s formula for calculating the number of new houses unless ‘exceptional circumstances’ apply. We had argued that Dorset’s unique combination of scenic, natural, geological and historic heritage amounted to exceptional circumstances which would justify an alternative calculation of housing need. The officers advised, from experience of decisions by planning Inspectors and Ministers, that this would not suffice. They recognised that development on the scale proposed would have the impact and implications that we described. They stated that there may be room for reduction in the number of houses, in the face of public reaction and of continuing studies by the Environment Agency and others. The Plan will be reviewed in the light of the very wide response to the public consultation : but they could not promise any substantial reduction.
This discussion, plus the answers to our detailed questions which the planners have readily answered, will help us in mounting a vigorous campaign. We expect to launch this campaign in late July, following a meeting on the evening of Tuesday 13 July of county-level and local organisations whom we are inviting to contribute to it. We will be appealing, through e-mail and social media, to Dorset CAN members and all Dorset citizens to support this campaign of pressure upon Dorset Council. If your organisation wishes to take part in the 13 July meeting or in the campaign, please contact Giles Watts at firstname.lastname@example.org.