Horse paddock in Swanage tipped for new affordable housing

It’s a longshot but a field currently used for horses may become the location for Swanage’s first community-led social housing project.

Swanage Community Housing, a community land trust set up with the purpose of delivering affordable homes, has identified the plot of land on the corner of Ulwell Road and Washpond Lane to the north of Swanage, as a suitable site to build new housing for local people.

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Washpond lane

The plot of land is on the corner of Ulweel Road and Washpond Lane

“Affordable housing delivery opportunity”

At the Swanage Town Council meeting on Monday 12th December 2022, a letter from the chair of Swanage Community Housing Robin Sutcliffe requested that the council reconsider the suitability of the Dorset Council-owned Washpond Lane site for housing, thus allowing it to take it forward as an “affordable housing delivery opportunity”.

Swanage Town Council had previously ruled out the field for housing as it is within a flood risk area and councillors wanted to retain the green open space on the edge of the town.

Field in Washpond lane

The field runs down to a stream and is liable to flood

“Extremely keen to take the Washpond Lane site forward”

In the letter, Robin Sutcliffe wrote:

“Swanage Community Housing is extremely keen to take the Washpond Lane site forward as a site for the delivery of affordable housing.

“The group has considered other sites, most of which are either owned by the town council or the town council has an interest in. Having considered all of these, none are considered viable or suitable to take forward at this time.”

It’s estimated that the site, despite being partly in a flood zone, would be able to accommodate seven new homes.

Old council depot
Old council depot

Swanage Town Council’s old depot on the corner of Kings Road West and Court Hill in the centre of Swanage had potential for housing but there are a number of businesses who rely on the site to operate

“Depot site in Swanage has good potential”

The old Swanage Town Council depot site on the corner of Kings Road West and Court Hill is a brownfield site which would allow for many more homes in a more central Swanage location.

It is the preferred site for many councillors and members of the community land trust, however there are a number of obstacles to overcome before it could be developed.

Robin continued:

“We believe the depot site in Swanage has good potential for affordable housing provision but our discussions to date indicate that this will take several years before it will be deliverable.”

Speaking at the meeting, councillor Gary Suttle explained more:

“The depot site has a number of tenants who run businesses from there and we would have to move those tenants to another suitable place before the land could be developed.

“And there simply isn’t anywhere else to relocate them to. It’s really our moral duty to do that, otherwise we would be threatening local jobs. This means we are unable to build any housing for many years at the depot.”

River in Washpond lane

The river that runs along one side of the Washpond Lane site

Hurdles to jump

While there are still hurdles to jump at the Washpond Lane site, Gary added:

“I think it is simpler to achieve housing at the Washpond Lane site and it would be the foot in the door to providing affordable housing for local people in Swanage, while still pursuing the longer term goal of developing the council depot site.”

According to Swanage Community Housing, there were 79 applicants waiting on the housing list with a local connection to Swanage in April 2022 – the most recent figures available. In addition there were 53 applicants waiting to be approved.

Each application may represent several family members and as the housing group points out, it is more than likely that these figures have now increased.

Signs in Ulwell Road

The Washpond Lane site is about a mile away from the centre of Swanage

“Accommodation for carers and key workers”

Councillor Debby Monkhouse, who is a council observer on Swanage Community Housing said:

“I’d like to speak up for all the people in need of homes in Swanage. There needs to be accommodation for carers and key workers and we must try to provide affordable housing.”

Ulwell Road bus stop

The Washpond Lane plot is opposite a bus stop so handy for public transport

Grazing plot has been rented for 12 years

Attending the meeting was the tenant who keeps horses on the Washpond Lane site. Local resident Amanda Rowley said:

“We have rented this grazing plot for 12 years and have invested money on the land, installing a new stable and gates.

“We absolutely appreciate the need for local housing but this plot has been rejected for development before – what makes it viable now? It floods and Washpond Lane is very dangerous with more vehicles using it now that the new housing has been built in Northbrook Road.

“We would really appreciate it if we could continue grazing on the site for as long as possible.”

Councillor Bill Trite expressed sympathy for the tenant and her horses who would have to be evicted to enable the development to go ahead. He said:

“I don’t agree with using this site for housing. Just because we need affordable housing in the area doesn’t mean that the rights of the tenant should be disregarded.”

Councillor Mike Bonfield also said he was still unhappy with the proposal.

Washpond Lane

Washpond Lane is narrow and there’s no pavement which makes it hazardous to walk down. Developing the site for housing may open up the possibility of providing a safe pedestrian route between Ulwell Road and Northbrook Road

Motion carried by a majority

The councillors voted on whether to allow the housing group to pursue further the possibility of using the site for affordable housing. It was passed by a majority vote with five councillors supporting the proposal and three abstaining.

Two other councillors were unable to vote because one was on a remote link and the other was a member of the community land trust, although they had both spoken in the meeting in favour of the proposition.

Swanage Community Housing now has the go ahead to explore the possibility of a planning application for affordable housing on the Washpond Lane site, but it is by no means certain that planning will be granted.

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