Our countryside is being destroyed by the scale and type of building development that is taking place.
The government has set a target of building 300,000 houses per year. The formula it devised to determine housing need across the country, however, has recently been found to include major errors in its statistical projections, which means the government’s figures for housing need are grossly inflated. Housing need is now being estimated at nearly 50% below the government annual target.
Local authorities have no say in the number of houses they are required to plan to build. They are bribed or penalised by central government over funding and meeting house-building targets; and they are also blackmailed by developers into granting planning consent to avoid the expense of government-policy-endorsed legal action against them if they try to refuse. That’s why CPRE are calling the National Planning Policy Framework a speculative developers’ charter.
So rather than delivering what communities want, local government and local democracy effectively does not exist when it comes to planning permission in this country – this is why your voice and all your objections to Vearse Farm have been ignored by the council.
This situation is made worse here in West Dorset because the original, adopted Local Plan had a target of just under 16,000 houses based on the flawed national government formula, but the Local Plan Review has increased this figure to just over 19,000. So if the government formula is wrong by 50%, then the number of houses planned for West Dorset is grossly excessive by a staggering 78%.
Not only that, but the national targets are higher in areas such as Dorset where affordability is a problem, but the formula does not take into account the fact that the kind of growth it promotes may be applicable to urban areas and big cities, but is not appropriate for a small market town in a rural area, like Bridport.
Adding insult to injury, the West Dorset Local Plan Review admits that its house-building target is an oversupply that significantly exceeds what is purported to be the ‘objectively assessed need’ – while at the same time stating that ‘the total projected need for affordable housing is not expected to be met in the plan review period’. This is because the houses planned to be built will in the main be luxury, unaffordable housing designed to make huge profits for developers but nothing to help local Dorset people.
Now if you’re thinking this isn’t so bad because laws of supply and demand mean an oversupply of houses will bring prices down – think again. The only people likely to be able to afford these houses are retirees from the big cities or second-home owners. Such people are able and prepared to pay a premium for the houses, which will, in fact push prices up in the area. So the 35% of so-called affordable houses pledged but not guaranteed to be built on developments like Vearse Farm, will be available for 80% of a cost vastly inflated by the model itself.
So the entire planning policy is flawed, and biased completely towards profits for the developers while doing nothing to help house local people and families in need of low-cost and social housing.
West Dorset District Council has also failed to provide any kind of brownfield first policy. In order to build on AONB land, the council and the developers have to prove that there are exceptional circumstances and that it is in the public interest for the AONB status – which should afford the highest possible protections – to be overruled. The fact that this development will not help local people get the houses they need and can afford, shows that there are no exceptional circumstances to justify disregarding the law on this and concreting over our countryside.
Part of the reason the CPRE has granted ADVEARSE match-funding of up to £10,000 towards a judicial review against Vearse Farm is that it will be the biggest development ever to have been built on AONB land. This is therefore a problem much bigger than Bridport alone, because if it is allowed to go ahead without challenge it will set a dangerous precedent allowing planning authorities to build anywhere on green belt and AONB land – and it will effectively destroy the protections of the AONB designation all over the country.
Should ADVEARSE be successful, however, it will set a helpful legal precedent that can be applied across the whole of the planning process for West Dorset, regardless of existing Local Plan allocations, and one which will help to sustain and support AONB protections elsewhere in the country.
Please give your support to this campaign, as CPRE has done.