It was a shock to discover this week that Shaftesbury's emerging neighbourhood plan - its development plan for the town to 2031 - will not include radical measures to beat climate change as many residents had hoped and asked for because of a claim that government rules won't allow it.
It means that obvious measures such as insisting that all new developments include solar panels and charging points for electric cars apparently cannot now be included in the plan due to go to Dorset Council on 16 December.
The claim came from Dorset planning consultant Jo Witherden who told a special meeting of Shaftesbury town council on 26 November that for the plans to be accepted they have to be approved by government examiners who will only accept plans that meet the government's existing planning policy guidelines.
Ms Witherden, who has been involved in neighbourhood plans across the county, told councillors that Bridport had recently had its draft neighbourhood plan turned down by the examiners because it did not meet those guidelines. Bridport - that is in many respects leading the climate emergency movement in Dorset - has now been forced to re-submit an amended version of its plan as a result.
But there's a glimmer of hope for Shaftesbury and it was provided last night by town mayor Tim Cook, one of Shaftesbury's two LibDem members on Dorset Council, who won unanimous support from other town councillors for his suggestion that a letter of protest is sent with Shaftesbury's draft plan complaining at the limitation on what the town can insist on to meet climate change demands.
He said the letter would make the point that with the scientific evidence now mounting rapidly and government policy already changing it was unreasonable and unproductive to limit the town's ambitions when they would in all probability prove to be essential in only a matter of months.
The letter is unlikely to result in any immediate changes to the current draft plan but it will be some weeks before the examiners' report is known, and whether any more changes can be made before the final plan goes to a public referendum, probably some time in 2020, is unknown.
But nothing will be lost by keeping up the pressure on Whitehall through whoever is our MP after 12 December to bring our antiquated planning policy guidelines more up-to-date faster. And indeed it may yet prove critical to do so.
Meanwhile, for anyone who wants to read more on the Bridport situation here are some links:
• Bridport Area Neighbourhood Plan (referendum version) -https://www.bridport-tc.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/BANP-Referendum-version_web-FINAL-251119.pdf • Examiner’s Report - https://www.bridport-tc.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Examiners-Report-FINAL.pdf
• Bridport Town Council Climate Emergency Action Plan -https://www.bridport-tc.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Climate-Emergency-Action-Plan-FINAL-v5-following-Full-Council-approval.pdf