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A long-running saga over where to site the new village hall in Bourton near Gillingham has taken a new turn, with residents opting for one location in a local ‘referendum’.

The vote, which saw 80 percent of those voting choosing the more central site at Sandways rather than the Jubilee Field site at Chaffeymoor Farm, comes after months of dispute between two sections of the village over where best to build the new Lottery-funded hall.

The parish council and village hall trustees favour the Jubilee Field site while a group called the Bourton Democratic Site Selection (DSS) group backed the Sandways location.

The split came to a head at an extraordinary meeting of the council at the start of August, which the DSS group says became ‘virtually…a kangaroo court’ seeking to destroy its support. ‘The level of hostility emanating from certain Parish Councillors went well beyond acceptable standards of behaviour for local authority members,’ the group said in a statement. It says the council even reported them to the police, claiming the holding of a local poll on the issue was illegal.

However, now the poll has been held and the Democratic Site Selection group says it has vindicated their decision to seek residents’ views. Out of 440 who voted – from a population of 727 – 349 preferred the Sandays site. Five ballot papers were spoiled and 86 people favoured Chaffeymoor.

The results of the vote were confirmed by two Dorset councillors, including Councillor Val Pothecary from Gillingham, and Gillingham mayor Councillor Barry Von Clemens, though critics point out that it was a private poll with no independent oversight of the voting process itself.

In a statement the Democratic Site Selection group said: ‘The people of Bourton have spoken with a very loud voice.  The level of involvement and the overwhelming size of the majority vote are probably unprecedented in this village.  There is no doubt at all what the great majority wants and expects.’

It continued: ‘If the Parish Council and the Village Hall Trustees will now accept the community’s decision and work for a new hall on the Sandways site, they will be applauded and supported.  If they persist with their attempts to force through their own plans for the Chaffeymoor site, they will no longer represent the community in any meaningful sense.  If they cannot accept the majority view, they must resign.’

The group added: ‘A referendum of this kind should have been carried out in the first place. It was the obvious initial step.  It is exactly what the Lottery and other funders want to see.  It is as clear as day that funding applications cannot succeed if they are seen to contradict the will of the community.  It is equally clear that the community will not assist with the task of creating a new hall if any further attempt is made by a small number of people to deny its wishes and needs.’

The Parish Council was not immediately available for comment.

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