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Serious concerns about Dorset Council and its Local Plan

This proposed site north of Dorchester, for a mixed development of more than 3500 houses, appears in the recently published Dorset Council Local Plan This proposed site north of Dorchester, for a mixed development of more than 3500 houses, appears in the recently published Dorset Council Local Plan

11th December 2020

Prior to the birth of the new unitary authority in Rural Dorset, there was already concern a unitary structure would make the council more remote. 

Cabinet members in Dorset Council (DC) admit this has occurred, with Councillors covering larger areas and heavier workloads than before. Town and Parish Councils report that they feel increasingly less consulted and ignored by DC. It is clear that the integration process has gone much more slowly than anticipated, and this has been particularly true with planning systems, where DC have only rolled out their new system, still struggling with serious design flaws, across North Dorset, with the rest to follow in coming months.

A current major anxiety is the timing, consultation process and scope of the new Local Plan, which will decide the future development of Dorset until 2038, announced last week. Notwithstanding that the emerging Local Plan appears to be just a mishmash of various plans from the previous District Councils, with much already out-of-date, the consultation process will commence in mid-January. Why rush when the government’s much criticised Planning White Paper has not been agreed yet? When it is, we expect it to force through dramatic changes to the planning system and housing targets.

We realise that the consultation process will be limited due to Covid-19 restrictions, but we do question the absence of engagement over the design of the consultation, as well as its scope. Where does it cover the question of “housing need”? Residents will be consulted over the siting of developments, but not whether they are actually needed. DC is kow-towing to central government over housing targets, so that numbers are non-negotiable. Dorset CPRE commissioned an independent report, Dorset Housing Needs Evidence (see copy below) which was published this year that heavily criticised the government’s Standard Housing Method for assessing local housing requirements. The government used 2014 household projections rather than later projections which suggest lower housing needs. Government targets are actually 47% higher than the existing Local Plans in Dorset. The report also argued for more genuinely affordable and social housing for young families, which are being squeezed out by affluent incomers.

Peter Bowyer, Chair of Trustees, said:

Because of the creation of the new unitary authority and the uncertainty over the impact of controversial planning reforms Dorset deserves much better than what is being proposed by Dorset Council for its consultation on the emerging Dorset Local Plan. We urge residents to fully engage in the consultation and share your concerns too. Let your Council know what you want for your family and Dorset.

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