Vearse Farm land up for sale to developers

After being delayed for more than a year by a judicial review challenging what’s set to be the biggest ever development on an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), Vearse Farm land has now gone up for sale to building companies.  Builders are invited to submit bids by noon on 15 July for all or parcels of land on the site.

A long delay is, however, anticipated before any of the 760+ houses and industrial units etc are built, as important infrastructure work has to be designed and completed before any properties can be occupied. Hallam Land Management, the company behind the project, were forced to delay this work for 12 months while ADVEARSE’s legal challenge to the planning permission, officially granted in May 2019, was ongoing.

The overwhelming opposition to the development, backed by the Dorset Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), continues, however.  Just last week Jeremy Pope, heritage interest representative on the AONB Partnership Board, trustee of the County Museum and of the Jurassic Coast Trust, wrote to local MP Chris Loder to say that ‘the decision to grant planning for the Vearse Farm project is completely at odds with the whole protection which AONB status is meant to confer … and will dramatically and adversely affect Bridport itself.’  While acknowledging ‘the need to increase housing capacity in the county’, he said, ‘to be honest I am more than a little sceptical that the promised affordable housing content will ever be fulfilled if past experience is anything to go by’, and went on to ask the MP if there was anything could be done to see if the scheme could ‘at least be moderated or, better still, scrapped.’  

In the meantime, ADVEARSE has now reluctantly moved on to a new phase focusing on ensuring the planning obligations and promises made by Hallam, such as the provision of 35% affordable housing (at around 80% of usual market value) and improvements to the A35 Miles Cross junction, are honoured.  The campaign group will also be closely examining aspects of the development that do not appear to meet legal requirements, including pedestrian safety. 

ADVEARSE Chair Barry Bates said ‘We will fight any attempt to back track on developer and council commitments and, with our wide-spread support, will not hesitate from taking legal action where appropriate.  While the impact of this development will undoubtedly change Bridport beyond recognition, we hope now to be able to work closely with the Town Council and relevant community groups to maximise the benefits to residents and to try to minimise as far as possible the harm the development is able to inflict on the culture and heritage of our town and countryside.’ <ENDS>

New cases showing our flawed planning system

For those interested in planning, two interesting case studies have just popped up:

1)      A Devon council tried to refuse outline planning permission to a developer for 122 houses but the developer took it to appeal and the council lost because they hadn’t met their housing-land supply. As we know, developers can basically build where they like – permission is just a pretend formality – as is the Local Plan and the Neighbourhood Plan.

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/great-torrington-appeal-decision-leaves-4064944?utm_source=linkCopy&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=sharebar

But Sevenoaks Council is trying to make a stand, they have failed to meet their supply because they refuse to build on greenbelt land but their LP has been rejected by the inspector:

As much as I really respect Sevenoaks Council for doing this and wish other council’s would do so too, I think statements like this:

‘We believe, whilst this is not the reason the inspector has given, failing to meet the government’s housing figure would potentially impact on subsequent Local Plans across the country.’

Are somewhat naïve as this has been going on for years under the last and present iterations of the NPPF.  They will undoubtedly be brushed off by the Secretary of State, as were ADVEARSE before our JR.  They may win any subsequent JR on the technicality that the inspector has rejected the plan because ‘it was not legally compliant in respect of the council’s duty to cooperate’, her main concerns being ‘the lack of constructive engagement with neighbouring authorities to resolve the issue of unmet housing need and the absence of strategic cross-boundary planning to examine how the identified needs could be accommodated’, whereas the council says its ‘Plan submission included more than 800 pages of evidence detailing how it had worked with neighbouring authorities during its production of the Plan’ and ‘that those councils and other organisations involved in its development supported the council’s evidence and approach.’  If the inspector had explicitly rejected the plan on the grounds of it failing to meet housing-land supply – the real reason for the rejection – then the judge would undoubtedly be able to uphold the decision.  However, if they win on a technicality, the inspector has only to reject it again citing the real reasons.

The real situation is what the council suggests: ‘If we are not to follow the evidence to make our Plan then the government may just as well dictate how many homes an area should have and then pick sites, we need to put an end to the thinly veiled charade that Local Plans are in any way locally led.’  If I were the leader of the council and the plan still gets rejected further down the line, I would be inclined to publicly rip it up and say, what’s the point, clearly developers can build where they like so we might as well leave it all to the free market and bin the pretence.

Sarah Carney, ADVEARSE

Post Judicial review Update

On Wednesday Barry Bates (Chair Advearse) was interviewed on Radio Solent. The link below if the the programme with Barry’s interview being after 28 minutes (at 7.28am).

In the interview Barry notes that the Vearse Farm development is the largest ever incursion into the AONB – and hence is a national issue on so many levels including the protecting the green spaces and the environment and loss of valuable farm land.

We are currently working on our strategy now that the judicial review legal challenge has come to an end. Other options for opposing the Vearse Farm urbanisation of Bridport are under review and we will shortly be sharing this strategy with our supporters to obtain their input on the best way forward.

In the meantime anyone wishing to be added to our list of supporters please email us. You don’t have to be a local resident or live in Dorset to be concerned about the damage of this development

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p088bky5

JR news coverage

There has been some local and national news coverage of the outcome of the JR. Links/cuttings for this coverage are listed below. Generally the coverage has been sympathetic.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8207755/Plans-1-000-new-homes-Area-Outstanding-Natural-Beauty-Dorset-green-light-court.html

https://www.localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/planning/401-planning-news/43354-campaigners-win-judicial-review-challenge-over-major-scheme-but-judge-declines-to-grant-relief

https://www.bridportnews.co.uk/news/18370627.campaigners-challenging-development-vearse-farm-lose-judicial-review/

Verdict on Vearse Farm judicial review

6 April 2020
PRESS RELEASE

ADVEARSE has, overall, lost its judicial review of West Dorset Council’s outline planning permission for what is believed to be the biggest ever development on a single area of outstanding natural beauty at Vearse Farm, Bridport.
In a written judgment issued on Monday 6 April, ADVEARSE was found to have won the legal argument on the first ground of their case — that the former West Dorset Council (since subsumed into the new unitary authority) had failed to have regard to statutory provisions and national
planning rules that require the harmful impact of the development on the conservation area and heritage assets to be assessed against the public benefits. The judge, Mr Justice Swift, said that ADVEARSE’s criticisms were ‘well-founded’ as the Council had not properly addressed the application of the relevant section of the National Planning Policy Framework, ‘a matter material to the decision the Council had to take.’ However, the judge said, ‘The role of the court is no more than to ensure that the decision and the decision-making process meet basic legal standards’, and because he believed the Council’s inadequacies may have made no difference to the committee’s ultimate decision, he had to rule against the claimants. The other two grounds of the case were rejected.
In court, ADVEARSE’s barrister, Matthew Henderson from Landmark Chambers, revealed defects and demonstrated that key objections and information from statutory experts, such as the conservation officer, the landscape officer and the AONB team, had been omitted from the officer’s report on which planning committee members had based their decision.
The judge said, ‘Planning issues are often controversial, all those affected by them deserve to be reassured that the officers’ reports that inform councillors’ decisions are sufficient to identify how any particular proposal is affected by specific statutory obligations … and by material policies’.
These reports, he said, ‘must meet some basic standards of good public administration’ and ‘basic level of coherence’. But, in a damning assessment, the judge said the West Dorset planning officer’s report did not meet the ‘bare minimum standard’. He likened it to a ‘jigsaw puzzle’ without a picture ‘on the front of the box.’
Further, the Council officer had made assumptions and speculations about the mitigation of any harmful impact of the Vearse Farm development which the judge regarded to be ‘optimistic’, ‘not realistic’, and which could not possibly be determined until later in the detailed planning process.
This, he stated, was ‘an incorrect approach.’
The report was, however, found to be ‘sufficient’ in terms of the remaining two grounds of the case which referred to failure to take into account other relevant aspects of the National Planning Policy Framework.
Stephanie Hill from ADVEARSE’s legal team said, ‘It is frustrating for our clients to have demonstrated that the Council’s decision-making was legally flawed, but still to have lost the challenge. The impact of the development will have to be given more detailed consideration as the planning application progresses, and this judgment emphasises the importance of good quality, reasoned decision-making throughout that process.’
ADVEARSE Chairman Barry Bates said, ‘After fighting tooth and nail we have been let down at every stage of the planning process. The JR was a last-ditch attempt to stop, or at best delay, this development. We are bitterly disappointed but accept that the courts are limited to looking at the legality of the process rather than the political or moral rights or wrongs of the case.’ ‘However,’ he said, ‘the old West Dorset planning authority came out of the affair badly and we hope that lessons have been learned, particularly now that we have a different council and are living in a different global and economic context.’
Bridport town councillor and ADVEARSE member Sarah Carney said, ‘There needs to be a review of national planning policy which forces rural councils to meet metro-centric housing targets which fail to deliver for local people and deliberately encourage private developers to build thousands of
unsuitable, unsustainable and unaffordable houses all over our countryside.’
ADVEARSE member and former district councillor David Tett, said ‘Vearse Farm houses will not be affordable to local families or keyworkers. They will, however, attract retirees from the big cities and second-home owners, resulting in more traffic and unbearable pressure on our already desperately over-stretched health and social care services.’
ADVEARSE spokesman Lewis Gerolemou said, however, that ‘Vearse Farm is far from done and dusted. It remains our view and that of our supporters that there are serious problems with the plans which will need to be addressed before any houses are built. The developers can rest assured that they will face intense scrutiny and challenge at the detailed planning stages and at any point should they fail to deliver what has been promised in the S106 agreement.’
The Chairman of Dorset CPRE Peter Bowyer said, ‘This outcome is very disappointing. It is clear that the planning authority in Dorset has little respect for the designation of the AONB. Dorset deserves to have a better planning service for the area. The fundamental questions of the right
numbers of houses, the right places and the right tenures are not being addressed within the current planning system. Alternative community-driven approaches are necessary in order to ensure that the incremental urbanisation of Dorset is not allowed to proceed.’
‘We now need the Dorset AONB to be upgraded to a National park. This would have the responsibility and resources to conserve and embrace our wonderful landscapes while also having the duty to respond proactively to local housing needs and so develop the local housing that local people need.’
ADVEARSE Treasurer, Phil Summerton, said, ‘We would like to thank our wonderful lawyers, Leigh Day, Landmark Chambers and our barrister Matthew Henderson for all their help and support. A big thanks also to the Dorset Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) who donated £10,000 to the cause, and tremendous thanks to the hundreds of people who have supported us over the past six years and who contributed towards the £34,000 that made it possible for the judicial review to go ahead’.

Further information
The full written judgment can be found here:
https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2020/807.html
Information about ADVEARSE can be found at: http://www.advearse.org.uk/about-advearse/
Email: [email protected]
Facebook: www.facebook.com/ADVEARSE/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/advearse
Crowdfunder: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/save-west-dorset-aonb
Vearse Farm development planning application: WD/D/17/000986
https://planning.dorset.gov.uk/onlineapplications/
applicationDetails.do?keyVal=DCAPR_132168&activeTab=summary

Neighbourhood plan

The vote on the Neighbourhood plan is on 27 February and is an opportunity to have a say on the future of Bridport. Below is the text of an email from the Bridport Town Clerk giving some information that will be helpful. Please feel free to share this information.

Early feedback from coverage of the Neighbourhood Plan referendum suggests that a lot of people are engaged (which is great!) but may not be able for a number of reasons to absorb the entire 106-page document.

In response, David has produced a summary guide to the Plan, and a narrated video summary.  Both are available from the main NP page at https://www.bridport-tc.gov.uk/projects/neighbourhood-plan/.

Hard copies of the summary guide are available from the Town Council on request, although naturally we’d encourage people not to ask unless they are unable to access the website version.

Many thanks to David for reacting so quickly to the significant number of requests for these summaries.

Please share this information via your own networks.  I have shared the summaries on the ‘Bridport Banter’ and ‘Bridport Notice’ Facebook pages, with a combined following of almost 24,000 people.

I’m sure also you’ll be aware by now that both poll cards and the NP leaflet are dropping through letter boxes this week.  The Bridport News also produced a helpful two-page spread last week, which is reproduced online at https://www.bridportnews.co.uk/news/18216834.important-points-know-neighbourhood-plan-ahead-referendum/.

Further update on Judicial Review

As previously mentioned, the full JR hearing was held on Tuesday 28 January at the Cardiff Civil Justice Centre.

The hearing was in front a judge with lawyers representing Advearse, Dorset Council and the developer (Hallam) making oral arguments to supplement the written skeleton arguments already submitted to the court. The judge had available a large amount of material relevant to the planning application. This includes a significant amount of case law.  We had a total of 8 Advearse members and supporters attending on the day. We were told that the Judge would have noticed this presence.

Our lawyers sought an order from the judge quashing the planning permission citing specific legal failures by the Council in relation to the planning application. Of course, both the Council and Hallam lawyers resisted our claim.

If granted, a quashing order would render the current Vearse Farm Outline Planning Permission (OPP) null and void.

Due to the length and complexity of the legal arguments the case had to be adjourned and was completed on Friday 31 January with some Advearse members in attendance. As expected, the judge reserved judgement and will, over the coming weeks, review all the legal submissions and arguments and issue his written judgement. Unfortunately, we do not have a clear indication of how long it will take to issue the judgment and more importantly which way it will go.

At our January meeting we examined the possible responses of Dorset Council and Hallam to which ever result emerges  and to plan our own response. Fingers crossed we win the case – but whatever the outcome we will continue to fight against the massively destructive Vearse Farm Bridport urban extension. 

We will provide a further update once the Judge has finalised his decision.

ADVEARSE ANNUAL REPORT 2019

This report has been compiled following the AGM, held on 2 December 2019. It is essentially a summary of key developments. Please contact the group if you would like more detail on any item

A year dominated by the Judicial Review

Our monthly meetings and ongoing activity have been dominated by the JR. At the start of the year we had no idea when the decision notice would be published (the Outline Planning Permission had been agreed in November 2017!). We knew that we would have just 6 weeks to launch a JR after the publication of the DN.

The DN was published in May and we spent the months before then

  • Selecting chambers who could lead a JR; negotiating fees; understanding the JR process.
  • Using the Chambers to prepare a PAP (Pre-Action Protocol) letter. This would be sent to the Council on the publication of the DN setting out our case.
  • Researching our case
  • Researching fundraising options – These largely involved crowd funding companies. We chose crowdfunder
  • Holding a public meeting in the WI Hall – which proved very successful
  • Building the support base. In this regard we were very much more active in using the website and social media.
  • Publicising the case. We obtained extensive coverage in the Telegraph with a smaller piece in the Times. A full half day with Anna Varle resulted in substantial coverage on BBC Spotlight.
  • In addition we leafletted the town and took out a large advert in the Bridport News

Applying for the JR

Following the publication of the DN we had just 6 weeks to refine our case and secure the funding (our target £34,000). We are extremely grateful to CPRE Dorset who agreed to match fund our efforts up to £10.000. This gave the momentum to our efforts and we made the target. What a wonderful response. CPRE support has provided a professional backdrop to our work.

The fundraising has made it increasingly important that we maintain excellent contact with our supporters and donors. The increased use of the website and social media has been at the heart of these efforts.

Progress on the JR

After an initial set back when the ‘paper review ‘of our case saw the judge agree with the Council position, we received an oral hearing in the Courts at Cardiff in October. Our barrister faced the Council Barrister and 2 QC’s from Hallam the developers. The Judge agreed our case is arguable and should be heard in full court. We await the date of the hearing which should be Spring 2020.

Since October we have been in dialogue with our Chambers to improve our case and to prepare our response to the Council/Hallam defence case.

Links to others nationally and locally

In the past year we have helped individuals who sought our advice/experience to help a planning appeal. We are increasingly contacted by other protest groups across the country. There are plans for joint meetings and actions from the 6 groups in Dorset who are opposing the creeping suburbanisation of Dorset.

Ongoing research and strategy

We are planning ahead on all scenarios. If the JR is lost, we intend to challenge the detailed plans. This will bring back into play factors not currently within the JR. An example of this is the safe access of pedestrians, cyclists and traffic along West Road with its narrow pavements. Any developer can expect a rough passage!

What keeps us going?

As 2020 begins ADVEARSE will begin its 8th year. Above all we highlight the fact that VF will be twice the size of any other development in the country in an AONB. (Look up the FARTHINGLOE case). We believe the planners prejudged the allocation and misled the Planning Committee into agreeing with the development. We are sustained by the vast number of people who totally oppose it.

So, a year of real achievement. A small steering group has sustained a complex fight and has had the courage to take on the Council and developer. This could not have been achieved without public support. Thanks to all.

So, the prospect of a National Park for Dorset, renewed concern about climate change and the needless loss of farmland, more awareness of brown field sites, Let us win the JR and re open the debate about the exceptional circumstances to justify VF.  It is a fight worth sustaining.

Barry Bates – Chair

Newsflash – Full JR hearing date announced

We now have a date for the full JR hearing. It will be on 28 January 2020 and is expected to last 1 day.
Location is Cardiff Civil Justice Centre, 2 Park Street, Cardiff CF10 1ET.

It is most likely that the judge will give the judgement in writing a few days later.

All the lawyers involved representing Advearse, council and developer will make written submissions and present oral arguments on the day. A delegation from Advearse will be attending to observe proceedings.


If anyone is interested in also attending please let us know so we can coordinate arrangements. A good turn out from local people will help to demonstrate the support for our case although the judge is of course impartial and will judge the outcome only on the legal arguments.

Campaign Site