Dorset Council say that the first homes on Gillingham’s long-awaited Southern Extension development are expected to be completed ‘by 2022’ once final planning approval is granted.
The construction of the rest of the 1,800 houses on the site south of the town is then expected to take place gradually over the following ten years.
The council’s upbeat assessment – which is at odds with that of the developers – comes despite a delay in starting work on the ‘Principal Street’. This will be the main street through the development and is being built by the council’s highways department using government money.
Dorset Council staff recently put up signs announcing the temporary closure of footpaths N62/1, N64/35, N64/33 and N64/78 ahead of work on the street starting, but these have now been removed.
‘The public notice was erected on site in error as the start of construction has been delayed. The proposed scheme is currently going through the planning application process and we hope to get a decision on the proposals in due course,’ said a council spokesperson. It is likely that the temporary footpath closures will not now be required until later this year or early next year.
‘Following concerns raised about the closure of these footpaths we have worked with the contractor and now propose to keep footpath N64/33 open during the construction of the new road,’ added the spokesperson. ‘Unfortunately it is not possible to keep all of the footpaths open during the construction work as the site will need to be fenced off as work will be taking place along the length of the site.’
However, the council remains positive about when construction of the new homes will start, even though outline planning permission (OPP) still has to be granted and there is still no ‘Section 106’ or ‘S106’ agreement yet between the councils and the developers. Such agreements typically determine how much developers contribute to infrastructure or the proportion of affordable housing.
‘Once these agreements are signed by all respective parties, planning consent can be issued,’ said the council spokesperson.
‘Further planning applications will be necessary before homes are built. These applications will set out the detailed design and layout of buildings and open spaces amongst other things. Subject to their approval, first completed homes are expected by 2022 with development expected to continue well into the next decade.’
However, the council’s time frame was described as ‘perhaps optimistic’ by one of the main developers involved, Dorchester-based C G Fry and Son Ltd, who plan to build 634 homes and a primary school at Park Farm.
The company’s Land & Planning Director, David Lohfink, said that the council had recently carried out a ‘volte face’ on a suggested S106 agreement – with an inbuilt mechanism to review the project’s viability the developers had found acceptable – and were now trying to ‘unpick’ it.
‘We received the “new” viability review mechanism clause last week and, in our view, it is totally unworkable and unreasonable and we cannot agree to it,” said Mr Lohfink. “So we are likely to have yet another delay to the negotiation of the S106 Agreement and the release of the OPP. In our view, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the previously-agreed clause and that the council just needs to get on with it in order to start delivering this important scheme.’
The company says that even on an ‘optimistic’ view, and assuming agreements are reached, they do not expect to start work on the site before autumn 2021. ‘That might mean some completions by very late 2022,’ said Mr Lohfink.
He added: ‘Much depends on whether the council really does have the professional and political will to conclude the S106 Agreement and get the OPP issued. It should be really very straightforward now but it has been a real effort to get this far.’