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Shaftesbury town council is instructing a barrister to explore the possibility of legal action to stop the sale of Dorset’s last cattle market following a bad-tempered public meeting in Shaftesbury last night, Tuesday 11 June.

Martin Hamilton (pictured), the strategic director for the joint authorities of North Dorset District Council, West Dorset District Council and Weymouth & Portland Borough Council responsible for economy, assets and infrastructure, faced an angry meeting of residents in the town hall called by the town council to challenge NDDC’s decision to sell the market site to a supermarket chain.

North Dorset council is alleged to have sold the 3.5-acre site to Lidl for £1.9 million, some of which has to be paid to Southern Counties Auctioneers who hold a lease on the site until 2054 and are joint vendors with NDDC.

Anger was caused for many of the 100 or so people in the town’s guildhall after hearing Mr Hamilton defend the sale without consulting the town council or local people first and refuse to give details of who the preferred bidder is or how much they are paying. He also denied that whoever had bought the site would have been given a promise of planning permission as part of the deal.

Martin Hamilton Dorset Shaftesbury cattle market
Council boss Martin Hamilton explaining the sale of Shaftesbury’s historic cattle market at a public meeting on 11 June.

He then refused to accede to a request from Shaftesbury Civic Society chairman Mike Madgwick to ask NDDC to go back on its decision so that local people would have time to make an alternative bid for the site because he said it would not be fair to Southern Counties Auctioneers.

Bernard Ede of Shaftesbury Open Spaces Group told him it was ‘even less fair on the people of Shaftesbury.’

The extended two-hour confrontation ended only after the town council’s deputy mayor Councillor Lester Taylor, chairing the meeting, agreed to hold an immediate meeting with two of his councillor colleagues present to act on an earlier council resolution to instruct an expert barrister to find out what legal options are open to the council to stop the sale and make their own bid.

Shaftesbury Civic Society has applied for the site to be registered as ‘an asset of community value’ under the Localism Act 2011 and is waiting for an answer from NDDC’s head of planning Hilary Jordan. Mr Hamilton said the effect of registration would be to delay any sale for up to six months but it would not necessarily stop it.

The town council is to call a further public meeting on a date yet to be agreed.

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