EXTRA work is needed to assess the viability of the proposed Dorchester North ’garden community’ housing scheme – according to Dorset Council.

Planning portfolio holder Cllr David Walsh has also revealed that the link road between the A35 and A37 being considered for the 3,500 home scheme is not the bypass which was originally envisaged.

He says that, instead, it is likely to be a link road more in keeping with a cross route through a housing estate.

The question of viability was raised in a public question to this week’s Cabinet meeting where it was said that a consultant’s 2008 study, commissioned by the former district council, concluded that after a notional development period of 14 years the new housing estate would have a negative value of £174million.

Questioner David Moss says his research also shows that two of the three Government-proposed ‘garden communities’ in North Essex, similar to Dorchester’s proposals, were financially unsound and not deliverable.

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Mr Moss says the finding came from planning inspector looking into council strategy over the developments: “What is of particular importance in the Inspector’s analysis of the financial viability of the proposals is his criticism of the unrealistic assumptions being made on behalf of both the councils involved and the promoters of the 'garden communities'. In particular he specifically refers to unrealistic assumptions regarding build-out rates and the need to account for 'optimism bias’ in considering the cost of the infrastructure requirements.”

He says the lessons from Essex must put the Dorchester scheme ‘at the very least, in grave doubt.’

Cllr Walsh says the 2008 former West Dorset District Council report was produced under ‘a different economic context’ but conceded that further work was needed to assess the current viability of the Dorchester North scheme.

He told councillors that, in light of climate change, and the design of the Dorchester North scheme, a bypass road was no longer considered necessary.

“The movement strategy proposed within the plan seeks to maximise walking and cycling opportunities alongside the provision of facilities within the development. This will help to minimise the reliance on car travel and make everyday trips shorter and more sustainable.  It should also be noted that the road link now proposed is not the full bypass being considered in the Halcrow (2008) report, but a link road of an appropriate scale to run through a residential area,” he said.

*ADDITIONAL public outdoor recreation could put local wildlife at risk if the Dorchester North housing scheme were to go ahead.

The claim comes from local resident Sally Cook who said in a question to the Cabinet that the countryside surrounding the proposed housing scheme was ‘not the most robust’ to cope with large numbers of extra visitors which could be harmful to it.

She said that it had been claimed that other local sites, such as Thorncombe Wood, were already at maximum use.

Planning portfolio holder Cllr David Walsh said he believed that adequate outdoor provision could be made in the area for informal outdoor recreation.

“Other opportunities could involve community orchards or making greater use of Puddletown Forest,” he said.