V E A R S E F A R M
Is there a more ecological and compelling vision for affordable housing developments in Bridport?
Vearse Farm is a greenfield site situated on the edge of Bridport to the west of the town centre. A working farm of approximately 105 acres, the site has recently been given the go-ahead for a development that will provide 760 homes within a masterplan that will also provide educational, industrial and recreational amenities.
The judicial review of April 2020 concluded that the 105 acres at Vearse Farm could be developed for ‘up to 760 dwellings, 60 unit care home (Use Class C2), 4 hectares of land for employment (Use Classes B1, B2, B8), mixed use local centre (Use Classes A1, A2, A3, A4, A5, B1, C3 and D1), primary school and associated playing fields (Use Class D1), areas of public open space and allotments, drainage works, the formation of new vehicular accesses to West Road and the formation of new pedestrian and cycle links’.
This will have a significant impact on Bridport, and is one the largest projects of its kind in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Ever since a planning application was made by Hallam Land Management to Dorset County Council, the development has been a deeply contentious and divisive. The opposition, backed by the Dorset Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and ADVEARSE (the local campaign group who brought about the judicial action), have reluctantly accepted the result of the review and are now focused on ensuring the planning obligations are kept, such as the provision of 35% affordable housing.
Given the conflict that has surrounded Vearse Farm over the last few years and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Bridport and its economy, any proposals to develop the site must demonstrate a clear public benefit, with affordable housing that is generous, civic and environmentally responsible. It must be designed as a new part of the fabric of the town, rather than simply an adjacent but separate residential enclave. It must also be ensured that a significant proportion of these houses – as many as 250 – must be affordable to local people.
R A I S E T H E R O O F are working on an alternative vision for Vearse Farm. We want to engage in a constructive, public dialogue about the agenda for Bridport’s future development, drawing together partners from across the rural, industrial, creative and community development sectors. We believe that this project could become a compelling and credible example of how housing developments can be done in rural places, enabling a new benchmark for affordable, adaptable and ecological housing in the South West and UK. Our first stage of work will set out an outline vision for Vearse Farm with the following principles:
Through a Community Land Trust structure, there must be a wide variety of rental and ownership options for local residents and families at below market rent, with a variety of local housing groups and stakeholders. Instead of a single large, paternalistic Housing Association managing all housing, smaller groups of up to 100 residents are supported and enfranchised to manage housing and outdoor spaces co-operatively.
Rather than seeing the site a generic ‘greenfield’ condition, the first step is to approach the site as a specific situation with a particular topography, history and character. Instead of seeing lanscape features as constraints to be overcome, enhancing them immediately gives the site a stronger, more distinct character and enables a kind of ecological infrastructure, ranging in scale from the field to the garden, and in type from field, meadow sports pitch to woodland, orchard and allotment. Rich and regular experience of outdoor, natural environments is increasingly vital: it enhances personal and social wellbeing and improves public health. It is also critical for developing a stronger bond and sense of collective, social responsibility for the environment we share with local animals and wildlife. In the nurture of an accessible and varied landscape of outdoor environments, the neighbourhood must not degrade the environment in the materials used in its construction or the processes involved in its production and ongoing use.
The scheme resists the conventional separation of residential, commercial and industrial uses that have led to the production of neighbourhoods that lack vitality and activity throughout the day. A school is positioned at the heart rather than at the fringe of the scheme. A new community building is situated between the new development and neighbouring Skilling. Shops and small workshops are distributed throughout the site, while generous and varied open spaces create new public open spaces for the whole town. By employing more dense and typically urban forms of housing situated within a varied landscape of outdoor spaces, the housing should be more affordable, accessible and varied than typical suburban models. It meets the needs of young workers, larger families and older people, and its design and construction is more adaptable than traditional brick and block, enabling a high level of dweller expression and control.