PHOTOS: Coffin heads East Dorset Core Strategy protest
MORE than 200 people gathered to march solemnly behind the coffin of East Dorset democracy to the district council's headquarters at Furzehill on Monday in protest at the district's proposed core strategy identifying land for more than 1000 new houses in the district.
The protest was led by parishioners of West Parley, who are opposing a proposal for 500 homes in their village, and swelled by those from Wimborne and Colehill in protest against another 1300 either side of the Cranborne road and off Leigh Road.
March co-ordinator Kenny Pearce, a West Parley parish councillor, said: "We are showing our concern at the proposals, and to the fact that our district councillors have not been listening and have ignored our views."
Susan Davies of Colehill said: "I am staggered that our elected representatives have chosen to ignore public opinion. We are not against housing for local people, but we don't need several thousands houses to meet that need."
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The marchers were met by West Parley district councillors Barbara Manuel and John Wilson, who said: "It is great that you have made this effort to come out tonight, and we will take notice of it."
Inside the council chamber, their message was spelled out in more detail to the full council meeting by a number of members of the public who were allowed extended time to make a series of deputations against the strategy on behalf of campaign group Keep Wimborne Green, the residents of Colehill, and by West Parley parish council chairman Richard Heaslip.
He said the proposed 32 per cent increase to the present housing stock would be devastating for a village which had a real sense of community.
Similar arguments were raised against disproportionate development on either side of the Cranborne road, where earlier proposals for 430 homes were rejected but had now been replaced by proposals for 700, and against development on good quality farmland off Leigh Road.
In the extensive debate by councillors, broadcast live in a webcast to the Dorsetforyou website, council leader Spencer Flower described the proposals as a strategy for necessary growth in the district over the next 15 years and stressed that it still had to be tested in a public enquiry at which people would be able to express their views.
Speakers against highlighted the pressure which would be put on the district's infrastructure, the increase in traffic on already congested roads, and their resistance to the amount of new development proposed.
But supporters argued that without an approved core strategy setting out where development could go, East Dorset would run the risk of being unable to reject other even less welcome proposals from developers.
In the recorded vote which followed, a majority of 23 councillors supported the strategy, with only four councillors voting against, and another ten abstaining.
Mr Flower said: "We have to represent the views of the whole community, not just the vocal minority, and this puts in place opportunities for industry and commerce. Relying on the protection of the National Planning Policy Framework is a recipe for disaster."
After the meeting Mr Flower added: "The Core Strategy has been subject to extensive consultation and engagement over the last few years, including a 40-week consultation period, and this version of the Strategy is the result of that process.
"Despite some comments to the contrary at Monday's meeting, I am pleased to say that democracy is alive and well in East Dorset. Elected Members openly discussed, debated and considered the decision to submit the Core Strategy at a meeting which was open to the public and where members of the community were given the opportunity to make a presentation."
Report and photos by Nicci Brown