Radical rethink by Dorset Council to reduce building in countryside

Environment groups across Dorset including Purbeck are welcoming proposals to delay a key planning document and reduce the number of homes that the UK Government is forcing Dorset to build across the county.

The leader of Dorset Council, councillor Spencer Flower has published an open letter saying he is unhappy with the draft Dorset Local Plan and believes it ‘chases housing numbers rather than prioritising local needs’.

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By law, Dorset Council needs to create a Local Plan for Dorset by 2024 which says where new housing should be built, however the number of properties is being set by central government.

Sheep in one of the fields in Swanage, where housing in proposed

Sheep graze in a field in Swanage where the draft Dorset Local Plan proposes building 150 new homes

Government housing target of 39,000 new homes in Dorset by 2038

This has led to Dorset Council allocating thousands of acres of green field sites for development, many in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), to meet the government housing target of 39,000 new homes in Dorset by 2038.

This includes fields in Swanage next to the allotments in Prospect Crescent, where the draft Local Plan proposes to put 150 homes. There’s also proposals to allocate a field on the corner of Ulwell Road and Washpond Lane, as a gypsy and traveller site.

The government argues that more homes need to be built across the UK to meet demand and provide more people with the chance to afford to rent or buy a property.

Swanage Bay aerial view
Michael King

Housing in Swanage with sea views is very sought after

Taking the matter up with Michael Gove

Now Spencer Flower, faced with huge opposition from residents and pressure groups says he’s taking the matter up with the UK Government’s secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, Michael Gove. He writes:

“In my dialogue with Michael Gove, I have been arguing that the current national planning framework is not providing councils with the means to promote sustainable development through their Local Plans but is instead about chasing housing targets.

“I am seeking reform of this framework and proposing that Dorset could be a pilot for a new way of creating Local Plans, based on sustainability and local needs over the next 30 years, that also recognises the ambitions of our Climate and Ecological Emergency Strategy.”

One of the fields in Swanage, where housing in proposed

The agricultural land next to the allotments in Swanage is earmarked for housing

“Several radical alternatives

Spencer Flower goes on to say:

“I’ve asked Mr Gove to consider several radical alternatives:

  • Allow Dorset to pilot a radically different approach to Local Plan making
  • Break the link between the housing land supply numbers and the Duty to Cooperate – i.e. the requirement for Dorset Council to accept unmet housing need from neighbouring councils
  • Allow Dorset an extension of two years until April 2026 to give more time for the new Dorset Local Plan to be developed and approved. During this extended period of plan preparation, Dorset should be protected against speculative housing development by suspending the five-year land supply requirement or by other means necessary
  • Fully recognise the climate and ecological emergency in the planning system, including new building regulations.

“We recognise that this is national policy and may require changes to primary legislation, which is not in our gift locally.”

One of the fields in Swanage, where housing in proposed

Environment groups are urging a rethink on the number of homes to be built in Dorset’s countryside

Dorset Climate Action Network urged a rethink

On Monday 17th January 2022, Dorset Climate Action Network, an alliance of 38 Dorset environment groups including Planet Purbeck, Langton Planet Action, Purbeck Transport Action Group, Wool Flora and Fauna and Arne Parish Council, wrote to Spencer Flower, urging him to rethink the Dorset Local Plan.

Now it looks as if they have got their response.

Michael Dower of Dorset Climate Action Network said:

“Spencer Flower is spot on when he says that we need a Local Plan that is right to Dorset. He has realised that the council’s draft Local Plan has too readily accepted the national guidelines, which are focused on chasing housing targets rather than true sustainable development.

“He has the political courage to challenge those guidelines, and to offer a bold and ambitious alternative.

“We wish him well in his discussions with Michael Gove. We have offered to help the council In mounting the case for the alternative.

“We will continue to campaign, with 42 other organisations within the Dorset Deserves Better Campaign Alliance, for a Local Plan which truly meets the needs of the county’s community, while respecting the landscape and wildlife heritage of Dorset.

“A revised Plan must be fully compatible with the county’s Climate and Ecological Emergency Strategy.”

View from Old St Mary's School

Swanage is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

“Dorset deserves better than what has been proposed to us to date”

Countryside campaign group, Dorset CPRE has also welcomed Spencer Flower’s statement, saying that it shows a willingness to develop a Local Plan more suited to Dorset and its residents.

Peter Bowyer, chair of the trustees of Dorset CPRE and Studland Parish councillor, said:

“We now hope that following councillor Spencer Flower’s statement that there will be positive dialogues with community organisations and residents in Dorset to arrive at a housing figure of closer to 22,000 up to 2038, adequate provision of affordable/social housing, and compatibility of the Dorset Local Plan with actions to address the Climate and Ecological Emergencies.

“We look forward to the outcome of communications between the Secretary of State and Dorset Council, and welcome the opportunity for an extension of the Local Plan period, as well as the potential development of a new approach to Local Plans that reflects the needs of the residents of Dorset.

“Any efforts to re-think the Dorset Local Plan will be supported by CPRE, but only if revisions reflect the real needs of the residents in Dorset and the exceptional environmental circumstances of the county. Dorset deserves better than what has been proposed to us to date”.

Houses in Queen's Road in Swanage

A better balance between housing and greenfield development is being urged by environment groups

Revised draft Local Plan due May 2022

Consultation on the draft Dorset Local Plan ended in March 2021. The Local Plan received 9,000 responses, many objecting to building on Dorset’s open countryside.

According to Dorset Council it is due to publish a revised draft Local Plan, incorporating the views of residents, in May 2022.

Further information

  • The full text of councillor Spencer Flower’s letter is on the Dorset Council website
  • The full text of the Dorset Climate Action Network’s letter to Dorset Council is on its website
  • More about the draft Dorset Local Plan is on the Dorset Council website

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