A parish poll calling for a judicial review of the sale of Dorset’s last cattle market site is likely to be held in Shaftesbury on Thursday 9 August.
Meanwhile Shaftesbury Town Council has agreed to write to NDDC asking it to halt the sale of the site until the result of the poll is known.
Both actions follow a major public outcry in the town this week over North Dorset District Council’s attempt to sell the site covertly to a leading supermarket, now widely believed to be Lidl.
The notice of the poll is due to go up in the next few days and the town’s 6,602 electors will be asked to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the single question: ‘Do you want Shaftesbury Town Council to fund and support a Judicial Review of the sale by North Dorset District Council of the Cattle Market Site?’
A judicial review means High Court judges will have to decide whether or not NDDC has acted legally in selling the site and if not NDDC could be ordered to start the whole process again.
Opponents believe NDDC has failed on a number of legal points including the unanimous opposition to the sale in April of its own overview and scrutiny committee.
The poll is the result of a packed public protest meeting held in the town hall on Tuesday 10 July organised by new local pressure group ‘Justice for Shaftesbury’ against NDDC’s decision to sell the market site to Lidl without consulting local people on what they would prefer to see built on the site and without holding the sale openly.
This was followed by an emergency meeting of Shaftesbury Town Council last night, 11 July, at which the council agreed to write to NDDC asking it to ’suspend’ the sale of the site to Lidl until the result of the parish poll is known.
The council agreed it would consider launching a judicial review of the sale process, as demanded unanimously by the public meeting, if the parish poll confirms the public is as strongly against the development of the land as a supermarket as it appears.
Protesters at last night’s council meeting demanded that the council act quickly to stop the sale despite the cost because of the strategic importance of the site.
They claimed the Christy’s Lane site is not only the last major piece of publicly-owned land in the centre of town but it also links the old town with the new housing developments to the east.
Justice for Shaftesbury campaigners, led by former soldier Peter Yeo, are accusing NDDC of trying to organise a secret ‘dash for cash’ before they disappear next March as part of the reorganisation of local government in Dorset.
The town council voted to postpone a decision on whether or not to launch a High Court challenge until after the result of the poll is known on the night of 9 August. But it agreed to instruct its lawyers to prepare papers ready to be lodged immediately after the result is announced.
Electors will need to vote in person at three polling stations, likely to be Shaftesbury town hall, Lindlar Hall and The Royal Chase hotel. No proxy or postal votes are allowed in a parish poll.