Dorset councillors have rejected an application to build 80 new homes on a site off Common Mead Lane in Gillingham.
The vote last month is a major boost for the local residents who formed a campaign group Save Our Fields in a bid to stop the development.
One resident behind the group, Robert Cockell, told Gillingham News: ‘Like everyone else that put in an objection, I am delighted.’
The refusal comes just after another development project in Gillingham – Persimmon’s plan to build 200 homes at Bay – was thrown out by planners.
However, in the Persimmon application it was Dorset Council’s own planning officials who rejected the application; in the Common Mead Lane case the county’s officials recommended approving the plans and it was only a narrow vote by councillors – by five votes to four – that stopped it from getting approval.
Opposition to the plans was led at the meeting by councillors for the Gillingham area Val Pothecary and Belinda Ridout.
Councillor Pothecary told the online meeting of Dorset Council’s Northern Area planning committee on 24 August: ‘I believe the site is unsustainable. … Nothing has been produced to justify building on this site.’
Councillor Ridout, who spoke of the development’s ‘harmful impact’ on local heritage sites, said: ‘I believe this proposal does not respect the rural character of the area.’
Opponents also say the development would cause major traffic problems on Common Mead Lane.
However, planning officials said that any negative features of the development were outweighed by the benefits. In particular they highlighted a lack of new homes currently being built across the county. In their report they pointed to the ‘prospect of delivery of up to 80 homes with policy compliant affordable housing in a sustainable location close to a major town’.
Officers also said that there were no ‘fundamental concerns’ over the design, and the impact on traffic, local heritage and the environment.
The online meeting also heard that if councillors did reject the application, there was a good chance that under current planning rules the developers could win if they appealed against the refusal.
The developers behind the application, Fairfax, have not yet decided whether to appeal or not.
A spokesperson for the company said: ‘We are naturally very disappointed with the planning committee’s refusal and its reasoning for it. This is especially so with our application having been recommended for approval by the Council’s planning officers, receiving no objections from any statutory consultees and having a draft allocation for residential development in the emerging Dorset Council Local Plan.
‘An enormous amount of time and care has been put in by our professional team to design an attractive and sympathetic development on this very sustainable site and we have worked closely with Dorset Council to ensure it delivers many valuable benefits to Gillingham, including much needed affordable homes and significant financial contributions for important local services.’
The Fairfax spokesperson added: ‘We will be considering several options that are now available to us including our right to appeal the decision.’