Shaftesbury town councillors reacted angrily last night after North Dorset District Council’s planning committee on October 10 turned down a controversial application by another Shaftesbury town councillor for 20 luxury houses outside the local plan area, alleging a form of ‘bribery’.
The Langdale Farm application by Poole-based developer Charles Higgins Primary Care Ltd, in which local architect and property developer Councillor Philip Proctor has an interest through parent company Charles Higgins Ltd, was put forward as a way of creating playing fields for local people on 15 acres of open fields in Wiltshire.
But NDDC’s case officer Robert Lennis claimed the proposal not only breached planning law by building outside the Local Plan area on the edge of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but also failed to meet the test for so-called ‘enabling development’.
Under planning law ‘enabling development’ refers to plans that would usually be considered harmful but are considered acceptable because the resulting benefits outweigh the harm.
Mr Lennis said: ‘The proposed offer [of land] does not meet this test and could not be secured as requested by the town council. To try to secure that land by any other contractual means would appear to be bribery no matter how altruistic the planning gain would be.’
However, members of Shaftesbury council, meeting last night, angrily attacked the decision, the bribery allegation, and the way the meeting was run by the district council.
Councillor George Hall, one of the four town councillors who spoke at the planning meeting in support of the application, called it ‘a total stitch-up.’
As chairman of the council’s recreation open spaces and environment committee, he called on the town council to find ways of making the plan happen despite the district council’s refusal.
‘We can procrastinate all we like but we have to get off our backsides and do something about this,’ he said. ‘It’s appalling and we have to rattle a few cages.’
He was supported by mayor Councillor John Lewer, Councillor Lester Taylor and Councillor Philip Proctor, who had all spoken earlier in the day in support of the application and who took it in turns last night to express their anger at the refusal of permission.
Councillor Proctor, who was reminded by Councillor Lewer that he had a financial interest in the issue, attacked what he called ‘the slanderous and biased presentation’ at the NDDC meeting.
‘It was lack of officer understanding that was the reason for the refusal,’ Councillor Proctor said.
Councillors decided they would discuss the issue again on Tuesday 17 October at the council’s own planning committee and follow this with a special council meeting on 19 October with the aim of drawing up a plan of campaign to make the development happen despite NDDC’s refusal.
The NDDC motion to reject the plan, proposed by Gillingham councillor Belinda Ridout and seconded by committee vice-chairman Councillor Charles Dowden, of Marnhull, was carried by six votes to one, with Councillor Peter Williams, of Motcombe and Bourton, against.
Gillingham’s Mike Gould, who abstained in the vote, called for the application to be re-thought after claiming Shaftesbury council was ‘going about this entirely the wrong way.’
‘This has to go back to the drawing board and everyone needs to get together to sort this out,’ he said.