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Councillors in Gillingham have held their first ‘virtual’ meeting since the coronavirus lockdown brought an end to gatherings in the town hall.

Members of the council’s planning committee convened by Skype on Monday evening to discuss a total of nine planning applications.

The committee’s chair, Councillor Val Pothecary, congratulated the committee on their work in the meeting, which members of the public were also able to attend online.

‘I think as our first Skype meeting it’s a bit of an achievement so well done everybody, thank you,’ she told fellow councillors.

Town clerk Julie Hawkins called the council’s first online meeting ‘absolutely brilliant’.

And local Dorset Council councillor David Walsh, who is Portfolio Holder for Planning for Dorset and who attended to discuss the town’s Southern Extension housing development, was also full of praise for the town council’s initiative.

‘I’ve sent a message to other people saying it’s amazing how we can do these things and step up to the mark,’ he told town councillors. ‘Congratulations to you all and Julie [Hawkins] for arranging this. The councillors have done a wonderful job tonight.’

At the meeting Councillor Walsh heard members of the planning committee overwhelmingly endorse an application to build a ‘Principal Street’ linking Shaftesbury Road and New Road to enable works access to the Southern Extension site where permission has been given to build around 1,800 homes. The road is to be paid for through housing infrastructure funding from the government.

‘This is a good news story for the town,’ said Councillor Walsh, who said without it construction traffic would have had to go down Ham Farm and past St Mary the Virgin primary school.

However, while welcoming the plans for the new road, the town’s councillors showed their impatience at the fact that there is still no sign of any new homes being built at the site.

‘Hopefully once the Principal Street goes in then somebody will come along and finally start putting up some houses as part of the Southern Extension,’ noted mayor Barry Von Clemens.

Councillor Mike Gould said he also welcomed the move but added: ‘Which builder is going to come to the party and start building houses?’

Councillor Walsh himself agreed it was important to get the homes built and quoted the words of a senior highways official in the county: ‘Wouldn’t it be awful to have this wonderful road and no houses on it?’

Members of the planning committee meanwhile recommended refusing permission to replace old stables at Milton Lodge Hotel in Milton-on-Stour with a large two-storey building.

Councillor Mike Gould, who did not vote on the issue because his son lives in Milton, said: ‘Milton Lodge is an iconic building to the village. It’s not architecturally very important but it’s part of its heritage and the building that is proposed will destroy its iconic look.’ The owners should go back to the drawing board and come up with another plan, he said.

Councillor Rupert Evill pointed out that the conservation officer had no objections to the proposed new structure. But he, too, felt that the planned structure would be ‘over-bearing’. He added: ‘If it was a one storey building I think I would probably support it.’

Councillors agreed to recommend refusal for permission on the grounds that it was an ‘inappropriate design in a conservation area’.

However, the committee did support plans to change the roof at another building on the site.

Councillors also heard that plans to extend the cafe at the Moto Corsa motorcycle showroom at The Old Brewery on Wyke Road – plans opposed by local residents and town councillors because of the impact on parking – have been withdrawn.

However, Dorset Council has approved plans for a Shell fuel station at Fern Brook Lane off the B 3081 Shaftesbury Road.

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