A MASSIVE row has erupted over a decision to designate the controversial scheme for 3,500 houses near the town’s water meadows as a ‘Garden Village’.

It has emerged that officers at the former West Dorset District Council (WDDC) applied for Garden Village status for the project – even though the site, on the downs north of the town, was not in the Local Plan.

West Dorset councillors decided to leave a decision on approving the massive new housing development – which would dwarf Poundbury – to the new Dorset Council.

But planning officers applied for funding as a Garden Village and it has now won a government grant worth £150,000 for the project.

A Garden Village is a development of 1,500 to 10,000 homes, which can be outside of the Local Plan – leaving no part of the countryside safe.

The new Dorset Council, formed by the merger of six councils, is creating a new Local Plan for the whole of rural Dorset.

It says the current local plan reviews for East Dorset, North Dorset, West Dorset, and Weymouth & Portland “will no longer be taken forward”. It adds: “The work undertaken on these reviews will feed into the new Dorset Council Local Plan.”

But designating the North Dorchester scheme as a Garden Village has bypassed this planning process.

Housing minister Kit Malthouse said: “I am confident that North Dorchester Garden Village will… help deliver our ambition of 300,000 new homes a year from the mid-2020s.”

The Garden Village scheme has been publicly supported by West Dorset Conservative MP Sir Oliver Letwin. In a letter to the Dorset Echo he wrote, “Strong objections to any development of this location have already been expressed and there will, very properly, be a lively debate as the masterplan is developed.”

His comments have been slammed by Town Crier and STAND (Save The Area North of Dorchester) member Alistair Chisholm.

In a reply to Mr Letwin he said, “I interpret that to mean that the totally Conservative cabinet of the new Dorset Council has already agreed this regardless of any expression from the people of Dorchester, who will be most affected by the scheme. Why should our MP so clearly act in support of this particular site before the due process has even begun?”

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