More than 300 people took part in a protest march organised by STAND to block plans to build 3,500 homes on the scenic downs north of Dorchester’s water meadows.

Campaigners gathered in North Square and headed down to the riverside walk before heading out across the fields that would be destroyed by massive estates planned by controversial builder Persimmon Homes and property giant Grainger.

protest-walkThe proposed development would be almost half as big again as Poundbury, which itself will total roughly 2,500 homes when completed in 2025.

The bid to build the homes on Dorchester’s downs is part of the former West Dorset District Council’s proposed housing growth allocation in the Local Plan. Protestors hope the new Dorset Council will now look at the different councils’ proposals on a county-wide basis, rather than sticking rigidly to the original allocations.

The protest, which made national headlines, comes as a report by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) highlights that there is space on suitable ‘brownfield land’ – land that has previously been built on, and is derelict or vacant – to accommodate more than one million new homes in England. Two-thirds of these are ‘shovel ready’ and could make an immediate contribution to meeting housing needs.

In Dorset alone there are brownfield sites that could take more than 16,000 houses, but only about a third of these have any planning applications.

Peter Neal, Dorset CPRE Chair of Trustee, said “There should a brownfield first policy. In the former West Dorset and Weymouth and Portland areas there are more than 2,600 such sites – hardly any of which appear in the revised Local Plan. However even then these sites are not being brought forward as high priority. Why not?

“In order to make best use of suitable brownfield land, CPRE is urging the government to introduce a genuine ‘brownfield first’ policy, which ensures that suitable previously developed or under-used land is prioritised for redevelopment over green spaces and countryside.

“Clearer definitions and guidelines must be given so that the registers act as a true pipeline, identifying all possible brownfield sites and recording their suitability for uses other than housing, including uses that protect the biodiversity or heritage value of sites where applicable.”

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