“DORSET Council is facing a legal battle over plans to build a large housing estate on countryside immortalised in Thomas Hardy novels, after locals complained of its “devastating” impact on rural communities.
The proposals would result in almost 1,000 homes on Vearse Farm in Bridport, the largest ever development permitted on an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England.
But residents now hope to overturn the council’s decision in the courts after raising more than £30,000 through crowdfunding to finance a judicial review.
The challenge is backed by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the Thomas Hardy Society, whose members described the plans as a “nail in the coffin” of Hardy Country, an area named in honour of the Victorian author.
Outline planning permission was first approved by West Dorset District Council, which has since amalgamated to Dorset Council, in November 2017 but proposals were only finalised in April.
The development, which covers an equivalent of 63 football pitches, would see the population of Bridport increase by an estimated 25 per cent.
But residents objected on the grounds the scale of the housing estate was “inappropriate” and raised fears the surrounding countryside would be spoiled.
A specifically-created campaign group, called ADVEARSE, was created to set up a crowdfunding campaign to raise £34,000 in order to fund a solicitor and barrister to launch a judicial review.
Barry Bates, chairman of the group, said: “If we do not take this action now, nothing further can ever be done to challenge a development of this devastating scale on this site.”
Overlooking the development site is the distinguishable Colmer’s Hill, a beloved landmark in Dorset that is said to be an inspiration for artists and novelists including Hardy, who mentioned it in his 1880 short story Fellow Townsmen.
Dr Tony Fincham, chairman of the Hardy Society, said: “This proposal is just the kind of over-development which irretrievably destroys part of Hardy’s Wessex.
“So often West Dorset (Council) doesn’t realise the value of its very special landscape in both literary and tourism term.
“This plan is just another nail in the coffin of Hardy Country.”
Elizabeth Sims, the widow of eminent violinist Neville Marriner, known as one of world’s greatest conductors, has also put her name to the cause. …
Dorset Council is under pressure to build over 15,000 new homes in west Dorset – one of the worst areas in Britain for affordable housing – by 2036.
The average price of property in the area now stands at £318,000, well beyond the means of most people born and brought up there.
David Walsh, Dorset Council’s head of planning, said: “We are confident in the way the Vearse Farm application was considered.
“As this is a legal process, it would not be appropriate to comment further at this moment in time.”