We are raising funds for a judicial review against West Dorset District Council’s consent to allow 760 houses (plus industrial development and other mixed use – and up to 930 houses planned) to be built on Vearse Farm, an area of outstanding natural beauty just outside Bridport. The planning committee has completely ignored the overwhelming opposition of local people to the urban extension of this historic little market town.
'Covering 454,000 square metres (equivalent to 63 football pitches) — if it goes ahead, this will be the BIGGEST DEVELOPMENT ever to be built on an AONB site in England'
Vearse Farm sits on the western outskirts of Bridport in the parish of Symondsbury. It is an AONB overlooked by many significant hills, including the iconic Dorset landmark Colmer’s Hill. It contributes significantly to the setting of the Bridport Conservation Area and, close to the beaches at West Bay and Eype, the UNESCO Jurassic Coast World Heritage site. It has been farmland since at least 1668 and quite possibly for 8000 years. Covering 454,000 square metres (equivalent to 63 football pitches) — if it goes ahead, this will be the BIGGEST DEVELOPMENT ever to be built on an AONB site in England.
Based on recent case law findings, we believe WDDC's decision to permit the Vearse Farm development can be challenged through judicial review because it contravenes many aspects of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in that it has not stipulated any 'exceptional circumstances' or demonstrated any public benefit to justify the scheme. These are necessary requirements for allowing building on AONB land, which should afford the highest possible protection from development under the terms of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. We also believe the Planning Committee to have been misled by misinformation and the omission of information in the submitted planning documents.
Why is this important to everyone?
We believe this to be a test case of vital importance because if this scheme goes ahead it will give the green light to allow planning authorities all over the country to build anywhere on green belt and AONB land. However, if we are able to raise the funds for a JR and win our case, it will set a precedent that will help to challenge and prevent further inappropriate develoment in West Dorset and the English countryside beyond.
How can you help?
If you wish to help us save our AONB and stop the unnecessary urbanisation of Bridport, we would be most grateful if you could please make a donation to our cause. In order to go ahead, however, we need to raise £34,000. The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has kindly agreed to support our JR application with match-funding of £10,000 towards this amount. We are only £16,000 away from our goal. Howver, if we have not raised enough in time to apply for the JR in early June, we will not be able to proceed and the development will go ahead. So, for instance, donations in the region of target with contributions of £30 from 533 people, £50 from 320 people or £100 from 160 people. We nonetheless will be incredibly grateful for however much you are able to give.
The wrong houses in the wrong place for the wrong people
'So it is not true for WDDC to say it must build on Vearse Farm AONB for reasons of "housing need", when the development will actively exclude those in genuine housing need'
A major objection to the development is that, despite its scale, it will not provide the affordable housing desperately needed by local people. WDDC’s policy is to build a huge oversupply of houses in West Dorset that 'significantly exceeds the assessed local housing need', while admitting that this is not expected to meet ‘the total projected need for affordable housing'. This is because the majority of houses planned will be expensive open-market properties targeted at second-home buyers and retirees from outside Dorset, rather than the low-cost housing needed by local people struggling to be able to afford to continue to live and work in their own community. The small number (up to a not guaranteed 35%) of promised so-called affordable houses will not help because a) their definition of ‘affordable’ is 80% of market value, which is still out of reach of most people, and b) by WDDC's own admission, there may be no obligation to deliver any of these at all if the developer can show it not to be financially viable later down the line. So it is not true for WDDC to say it must build on Vearse Farm AONB for reasons of 'housing need', when the development will actively exclude those in genuine housing need.
No local democracy
The scheme does not reflect the interests of Bridport but rather seems an expeditious response to a perceived requirement to deliver national, urban, housing targets, saving WDDC from having to identify more appropriate locations, such as brownfield sites, and more strategic and sustainable housing solutions that would mean building fewer houses specifically targeted to help the people most in need.
The local town council and both Symondsbury and Allington parish councils all voted against the development; 251 representations were made by 281 local people, only two of which were in support; and at the planning meeting around 27 local people spoke against the proposals.
The following critical points of objection are those most frequently raised to us by local people:
- Increased traffic congestion — Residents are very concerned about the increased traffic the development will bring, and car parking is already a big problem in Bridport town centre. WDDC has not adequately assessed the cumulative impact of increased traffic (a possible 2000 more cars) this plus other planned developments will bring to Bridport, and has ignored detailed, evidenced representations made to them about congestion, access and routes into and out of town.
- Additional demand on medical services — People are concerned that the medical centre and other health and social care services, already stretched to capacity, will not be able to cope with the 25% in ageing population the development will inevitably bring.
- Footpaths and pavements — People do not believe adequate consideration has been given to pedestrian safety and the safety of those with mobility problems in terms of the narrowness of pavements and footpaths into town and local villages. Some of the mitigation plans do not appear to be viable and seem to breach national guidelines and statutory requirements.
- Unsustainable — The nature, size and location of this development would significantly impact the environment, character, culture and heritage of the town and surrounding countryside, and adequate reasons have not been given to explain why such huge urban growth in this area is needed. Vearse Farm is good, Grade 2, agricultural as well as AONB land and urbanisation of this scale will threaten our bid to for the area to be granted national park status.
- Increased risk of flooding — Some of the access routes cross a floodplain and there is concern that development on the land will increase the risk of flooding elsewhere.
Who we are: ADVEARSE is a group of Bridport residents who have campaigned against this development since 2013.
Our aims are to:
- Improve public awareness of the scale of the development proposed for Vearse Farm.
- Highlight that the need for low-cost housing should predominate over that of more expensive open-market housing.
- Raise awareness of the serious objections to the development.
- Engage with the democratic process to achieve the best outcome for the long-term future of Bridport.
- Act as a focus for people who are opposed to the development.