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Bridport 172. As the largest settlement in this part of WD, Bridport is the most suitable location to meet future development needs in both the immediate and wider area. The proposed development of Vearse Farm on the western fringes of Bridport is therefore consistent with sustainability principles but led to a large number of representations, including a petition, opposed to the allocation. Local residents and organisations object to the choice and scale of the site and contend that development would see a significant expansion in the population of the town adding to existing problems of traffic congestion and pressure on local services and facilities. 173. The size and extent of the allocation challenges the presumption in the NPPF that major development should be avoided in AONB unless there are exceptional circumstances. It is clear to me that the Councils are well aware of the importance of protecting designated landscape but face the difficult problem of balancing such concerns with the need to provide homes and jobs to meet future needs. In order to achieve this and adhere to sustainable development principles it is inevitable that some areas in the AONB will be affected. West Dorset, Weymouth and Portland Local Plan Report, August 2015 35 174. From my visits to the area I concur with those who say that buildings on Vearse Farm would be visible from various points in the immediate and wider landscape. However, the topography would make it difficult to appreciate the size of the development from any one location and this could be reinforced by appropriate landscaping. If attention is paid to the design throughout the phasing programme it would be possible to introduce variety in the form and layout to help offset some of the concerns about the scale and massing of the development. 175. I was told of various issues such as flooding problems affecting the site, as well as land downstream, which could increase the likelihood that development would intensify run-off and have adverse consequences for areas between Bridport and West Bay. I cannot discount this but there has been no formal objection by the Environment Agency to suggest this is so serious an issue to curtail either some or all of the housing and employment uses proposed for the site. 176. Similarly, there are fears that traffic generated by the scheme would add to congestion and pressure on the highway network, particularly West Allington Road (B3162). This is the main route into Bridport from the west and one which, I was told, is very sensitive to further development. I am aware that congestion is a significant issue, particularly at peak times and during the summer months. Nevertheless, the Highway Authority is satisfied that measures can be taken to accommodate the level of development involved. 177. It was suggested the forthcoming neighbourhood plan for Bridport could be used to examine development options before a final decision was made. I regard this as unrealistic given that the plan is at an early stage of preparation. The delivery of Vearse Farm is a crucial element in the Councils’ housing land supply calculations. Deferring a decision until such time as a neighbourhood plan can be put in place would undermine the soundness of the LP and increase the risk of schemes being promoted in locations where the individual and cumulative impact of development may be greater. On balance and having regard to the site’s location and other issues I have referred to, I consider there are exceptional circumstances to justify the identification of Vearse Farm in the LP. 178. Vearse Farm is seen as a suitable location to provide a new school or for an enlarged replacement should the decision be taken to close an existing school. A review of education capacity is being undertaken by the County Council although it has yet to decide how it intends to meet future needs in Bridport. A minimum of one additional form of entry (FE) is required to cater for the projected increase in birthrates and new housing but a further FE may prove necessary in future [WDWP/Ex08]. 179. The County Council says the primary school site at Skilling Hill Road (St Mary’s) is too small to accommodate a further FE although this was disputed by a number of respondents. It was also argued that the relocation of education facilities from St Mary’s to Vearse Farm would exacerbate traffic movements and increase the distance for those travelling from West Bay and areas to the south of the town. I accept a West Dorset, Weymouth and Portland Local Plan Report, August 2015 36 change of location might prove inconvenient for some families but existing and potential school sites are relatively close to each other. 180. In relation to education it seems to me that WD is taking a pragmatic approach by preparing for changes to provision in the absence of a final decision. Thus policy BRID 2 explains the existing school off Skilling Hill Road could be used for housing purposes if facilities were moved to Vearse Farm (MM71). However, a small adjustment to the modified text to BRID 1 (MM67) is required to clarify that provision of a new school site at Vearse Farm should have capacity for a two-form entry in the event that this is required. 181. My overall view is that the allocation of Vearse Farm should be supported. It is a relatively well-contained site bounded to the west and south by the A35 bypass, by the B3162 to the north and the current western limits to the town on the east. The scale of the proposed development affords opportunities to address some of the wider traffic issues including improvements to the Miles Cross junction while introducing new facilities of benefit to the town. 182. As part of its housing review, discussions with the developer have encouraged the Councils to increase the rate of building activity from between 50 and 80 dpa to 100dpa. This is reflected in MM66. Changes to the supporting text and policy (BRID 1) are also necessary in light of information provided by Dorset County Council regarding school provision on the site (MM67, MM69 and MM70), changes to sustainable construction standards and to address concerns raised by Heritage England regarding the treatment of heritage assets (MM68). 183. The Councils have identified waste land off Jessopp Avenue on the northeastern side of the town as suitable for housing purposes. The site benefits from good access to the road system but also has amenity and recreation value. Being close to the River Asker water voles and otters are known to be present. In responding to the concerns of local residents and Natural England the Councils have endorsed the need for a substantial and effective wildlife corridor between development and the river. The changes are reflected in both policy BRID 3 (MM73) and the supporting text (MM72). The latter also includes revised text noting the historic assets which are close to and visible from the site and to which regard should be had when development proposals come forward. 184. In view of the likely need for further retail space the Councils, in common with their approach to other centres, have designated two car parks as the preferred locations for this purpose (BRID 4). The proposal has been criticised because of the existing pressure for parking in the town centre although a feature of the policy is to ensure sufficient parking is retained as part of any scheme. In order to deliver the Councils’ ambitions for this land much will depend on the careful design of any development. 185. In written representations and views expressed during the hearings it was clear that St Michael’s Trading Estate is an area which makes an important contribution to the vitality of Bridport town centre. An eclectic mix of West Dorset, Weymouth and Portland Local Plan Report, August 2015 37 businesses occupies traditional but small-scale industrial buildings which add considerably to the town’s retail appeal. Some of these buildings are of historic interest but the Councils, supported by the owner, maintain that regeneration of the Trading Estate is necessary to secure its future. This would involve retaining employment opportunities and restoring buildings of historic interest by allowing residential development as part of a viable scheme. 186. It is apparent the buildings are in need of repair and improvement but opponents fear proposals could devalue the unique form and appeal of the site and undermine its character. Such risks cannot be discounted but ignoring the condition of the buildings is more likely to jeopardise the future of the site in its current form. Incorporating some residential use appears to be a realistic and modest option which is capable of funding improvements while retaining the inherent character of the Estate. I see no reason to reject the proposal subject to the changes to the policy (BRID 5) and the supporting text to reinforce measures necessary to safeguard the riverside corridor and maintain its wildlife value (MM74 and MM75).