The Justice for Shaftesbury campaign group has leafletted 4,000 homes in Shaftesbury in an attempt to counter what the group claims is the ‘biased propaganda’ put out by Shaftesbury Town Council about the parish poll on the future of the town’s cattle market on 9 August, writes Richard Thomas.
It is the latest skirmish in an increasingly bitter battle between campaigners trying to save the site for community development and both North Dorset District Council – which is trying to sell the 2.5-acre site to a supermarket chain believed to be Lidl for a reputed £2.5 million – and STC, whom campaigners claim is deliberately obstructing objections to the sale from local people but doing nothing itself.
Justice for Shaftesbury, led by former soldier Peter Yeo and former Shaftesbury mayor Lester Dibben, is angry that Shaftesbury’s town clerk has put up posters around town urging people to vote ‘No’ to the poll that demands the town council launch a judicial review in the High Court to force NDDC to halt the sale.
Signed by town clerk Claire Commons, the posters say that a ‘yes’ vote on 9 August is a waste of time because the town council is not obliged to act on the result and even if it did so the cost of going to court is prohibitive and would be unlikely to be successful.
The campaign group’s six-page ‘vote Yes’ flier not only condemns the council’s move as ‘biased propaganda’ but also includes letters it is asking people to sign and send to communities and local government minister James Brokenshire, North Dorset MP Simon Hoare, and chief executive of NDDC Matt Prosser demanding they intervene to halt the sale so that local people have a say in what happens to the site first.
The group, now joined by former town councillor Adrian Thompson and local cattle farmer John Pritchard, is also asking local residents to forward letters to Lidl’s chief executive Christian Hartnagel asking him to switch the company’s interest to either the former Budgens site in the town centre or to the vacant seven-acre employment site on the A30 opposite the new Persimmon estate in Shaftesbury.
Meanwhile a public call for the resignation of Shaftesbury’s mayor Councillor Piers Brown has come from local residents Dr Richard Skaife and his wife Brenda after the revelation that he seconded the motion to sell the freehold of the market site to a supermarket at a meeting of NDDC’s cabinet in April.
They join protesters who claim not only that Councillor Brown has a vested interest in the sale as a cabinet member of NDDC but also that he has been instrumental in obstructing the town council’s support for local people concerned about the sale of Dorset’s last livestock market.
Blandford district and county councillor Barrie Cooper has also now joined the fight after discovering that the decision on how and where the money from the sale of the cattle market site will be spent will be made by the new Dorset Council unitary authority based in Dorchester that takes over from NDDC in April.
‘The Conservative cabinet at NDDC has lost an opportunity for the receipts to be spent in North Dorset for the benefit of the residents,’ he told a full meeting of NDDC at the end of July. ‘We need councillors who look to improve and invest our money in North Dorset.’
Justice for Shaftesbury lodged its own action against the sale in the High Court on 23 July – the last day it could for a judicial review of a council decision made on 23 April – and has launched a crowdfunding appeal on the CrowdJustice website to help pay for it.
The group also tried to launch a petition on the UK Petitions to Parliament website asking for it to be made illegal for councils to sell public land in secret but was refused.