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Town poll to challenge Shaftesbury cattle market sale

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A surprise admission this week by Shaftesbury’s mayor Councillor Piers Brown, who is also a member of North Dorset District Council’s cabinet, that NDDC’s decision to sell the cattle market site in Shaftesbury to a supermarket chain was entirely ‘member led’ has led to a last-minute call for a parish poll to challenge the decision, writes Richard Thomas.

NDDC cabinet’s April decision to sell the strategic site of Dorset’s last livestock market site in Christy’s Lane without first consulting local people has angered many residents.

Councillor Brown’s statement, in answer to a question at a meeting this week of the town council’s general management committee from committee chairman Councillor Tim Cook, is the first clear indication that the decision to sell was made entirely by members of NDDC’s Conservative cabinet and not on the recommendation of council officials.

In effect, it means the decision is essentially a political one.

The admission by Councillor Brown came during a debate this week on the cattle market sale following NDDC’s 20 June decision to refuse an application by Shaftesbury Civic Society to place the cattle market site on the council’s register of assets of community value.

Going on the register means a community must be given the right to bid to buy the site or asset if it wants to and places an automatic six months stay on any sale until local people have been a chance to have their say.

NDDC turned down the Civic Society’s application because it insisted it did not meet the necessary tests to qualify for registration.

But campaigners, led by former mayor Lester Dibben, have now called a public meeting at Shaftesbury town hall on 10 July at 7pm to challenge the way NDDC has handled the sale.

The decision whether to hold the poll will be made during the meeting which must, if he is present, be chaired by Councillor Brown in his capacity as mayor or if he is not there by his deputy Councillor Lester Taylor.

The wording of the poll has to be agreed by those at the meeting and has to invite a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer as in a referendum.

Campaigners said the wording is likely to ask for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to the question of whether the town council should initiate a judicial review against NDDC cabinet’s decision on the grounds that the decision is in breach of the Localism Act and the council’s own procedures.

Shaftesbury Town Council today confirmed it has instructed its solicitors to instruct a barrister to advise it on the legal case after having earlier agreed to spend up to £10,000 on the matter.

But the council could not confirm that the advise would be available in time for the meeting and refused a request to publish details of the public meeting on its website (www.shaftesbury-tc.gov.uk).

• The same meeting also agreed unanimously to apply to NDDC to place Shaftesbury’s Westminster Memorial Hospital on the community assets register.

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