Family win approval for controversial self build in Purbeck village

Unable to afford Purbeck house prices, a young couple have battled local opposition to obtain planning permission to build their own home on a field owned by relatives, in the picturesque village of Church Knowle in Dorset.

However, as the plot of land lies outside the village boundary, the property can only be built using the rural exception planning rule which means that the development must be low cost and affordable. The couple have had to agree never to sell the house for more than 47 percent of the market value.

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Plans for a self build low cost home in Church Knowle which must remain low cost for ever
Morgan Carey Architects

Architect’s impression of the proposed affordable home in Church Knowle

They despaired of ever being housed by Dorset Council

Former teachers Tom and Kirstie Smith and their two young children have been living in cramped conditions with relatives in the village near Corfe Castle for the last three years.

They despaired of ever being housed by Dorset Council, whose waiting list has almost 5,000 names on it and is growing longer every month.

So they decided the only way forward was to build their own home, but the proposal was met with huge opposition in the village, which lies within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Church Knowle parish sign

Church Knowle is a desirable village with many properties bought as second homes

Plans had to be resubmitted

Despite this, their original planning application was granted in March 2022, but then Natural England almost immediately updated their requirements on water quality in the Poole Harbour catchment area, meaning that plans had to be redrawn and submitted for a second time.

But when the applicants agreed to replace an existing septic tank with a new waste treatment plant, and pledged to only ever sell it at a below market value, Dorset Council planners recommended that plans could be approved.

With a number of objections and concerns still being voiced in the village, Church Knowle Parish Council, which had previously opposed the development, held an eleventh hour extraordinary meeting and voted not to object at a Dorset Council planning committee on Wednesday 5th April 2023.

Church Knowle may lack many amenities but it does have the popular New Inn pub

“Houses being built at a tremendous rate”

The parish council had previously declared:

“Houses are being built at a tremendous – some would say excessive – rate on green field sites in Purbeck. In Langton Matravers alone there are some 35 to be built on the old orchard at Spyway and 20 more on the fields of the Old Malthouse. 

“Then there are large scale developments that have taken place on or near the Swanage Grammar School. All this in an area with an aged demographic, no major industry, an economy that relies on seasonal tourism and where communities regard the preponderance of second homes as a social problem.

“In Church Knowle there is no employment or facilities, not even a shop or a bus route for a working age family and a desire to live with their parents is not a planning consideration. 

“The house would only be low cost as the land, currently classed agricultural in an AONB, would be costed at zero. This is a totally unrealistic distortion of the costings as Church Knowle is certainly not a ‘low cost’ area but a desirable high value property area.”

Church Knowle

The new low cost affordable home will be built down the lane near to the village hall

“This has been a tortuous process”

However, councillor Cherry Brooks, who represents the area on Dorset Council told the planning meeting:

“The applicants have been very proactive in finding solutions to the environmental considerations. This has been a tortuous process for them, through no fault of Dorset Council, but I think we need to move on now. 

“Since the parish council submitted their original comments there has been a change in a number of their councillors. They held an extraordinary meeting on Monday 3rd April, which I attended, and I can confirm that their vote was not to speak in opposition of this application today.

“I strongly support this application.”

Church Knowle sign

Welcome to Church Knowle, set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

“House will be an asset to the village for ever”

Applicant Tom Smith told the meeting:

“We brought this application to you in March 2022 when it was agreed, but seven days later Natural England changed their advice and we had to wait for their advice on how to achieve nutrient neutrality.

“We have done that now and my family and I are hopeful that you will come to the same conclusion today, so that we can finally get out of our parents’ house and into our own home.

“I am here today to put a face to the application so that you can see we are in need of the housing, but also willing to make sure that it was never sold at more than 47 percent of market value which means that the house will be affordable in the village in perpetuity.

“It will not only be for me and my family, but will be a great asset to the village for ever.”

Church Knowle fete 2022
David Haith

The Church Knowle fete in 2022 showed why it is such a desirable village

Beach school for vulnerable children

Tom and his wife Kirstie both had teaching jobs in Bournemouth and had just launched a beach school for vulnerable children when Covid closed them down – and as a new business, they received no government support.

They moved in with family at Church Knowle, but attempts to find a property of their own were thwarted by soaring prices and a council housing register which they had little chance of ever rising to the top of.

Setting up a small farm to work with special needs children, they hoped that plans to put up a low impact single storey home of their own in a well screened field in Church Knowle would be treated sympathetically, but faced a storm of opposition from the village.

Locals said that the land was the subject of an agricultural tie which should not be severed, as it would create a precedent for piecemeal development in an AONB, adding that it would harm the character of the village and cause extra traffic and light pollution.

St Peter's Church at Church Knowle

St Peter’s church in the centre of Church Knowle

In desperate need of affordable housing

But one letter of support for the family said:

“This type of development should be actively encouraged as otherwise Church Knowle will continue to become a place of second homes and for those most fortunate.

“The village is in desperate need of affordable housing and it is very difficult for ordinary working families to move into the area, while the local primary school is already operating below its nominated pupil admission number and is in need of more children.”

Planning law supports building affordable homes for local people in certain rural locations where housing would not normally be allowed.

Rural exception sites seek to address the needs of the local community by accommodating households who are either current residents or have an existing family or employment connection. 

Further information

  • The planning application is on the Dorset Council website

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