The residents of The Old Post Office in Church Road, that used to be our village shop, have obtained planning permission to change its use from a mixed residential / business premises to a purely residental one.
The decision was made by the Dorset Council Northern Area Planning Committee on 15th May in a meeting held in the Exchange in Sturminster Newton.
Representations to the Planning Committee were made by the applicants (for), the Parish Council (against) and a member of the public (against) and was approved by a narrow margin after a good deal of discussion by the members of the Planning Committee.
There were many, articulate objections raised in written comments to the Dorset County Planning website and this is a transcript of what I said on behalf of the Parish Council in the 3 minutes allowed to me:
Presentation to Planning Committee
I'm Iain Houston, a Councillor of Bradford Abbas Parish Council.
The Parish Council tries, as best it can, to serve the interests of the whole community.
Residents have consistently mourned the closure of the former Post Office as the village shop as it has been such a valuable asset in its central village location for this generation and many many previous generations.
This sense of loss is not just anecdotal, but in a recently completed household survey by our Neighbourhood Plan team, 82% of households say that the village shop is important or very important.
Therefore the Parish Council does not approve the change of use of the former Post Office from mixed business to residential use as it would preclude its being re-established as the village shop ever again.
We commend the quality and clarity of the report [you can find this on the Dorset Council website. It is worth a read. Iain] for gathering facts and opinions so comprehensively. Our issue is that some of those opinions, mainly the applicants viability assumptions are very subjective. Run as a community enterprise, like so many other village shops are, we know it can be eminently viable.
The trouble is that the Post Office has been marketed only with the narrowest view of commercial viability with no regard to the immense value the community places on it. The marketing has obviously not been in the hands of, or primarily in the interests of the Parish Council and the community it represents.
Before the applicants took possession, the Parish Council requested, but were unable to inspect the real life profit and loss accounts from the shop in operation.
The Parish Council has spawned two independent groups: A Community Land Trust, and a team putting together a submission for a Neighbourhood Plan which together can articulate both the need and solutions providing for a village shop.
The Parish Council does not wish to preclude the use o the Post Office as one of these teams’ solutions as there is a firm belief by Councillors and team members (including research they've done with The Plunket foundation) that there are indeed numerous situations in which the former Post Office building would be a viable village shop.
There is no bus service and the village shop offers a much needed solution for the very significant needs of more elderly residents with respect to loneliness, socialisation and mobility as well as younger parents as they drop off and pick their children up from school in this central village location.
As soon as the premises were occupied by the new owners, Councillors were keen to know their plans in the hope that they were going to open up the former Post Office building as a shop again. At this time (July 2021) the Parish Council had not received any notification of an application for change of use. The new residents asserted very clearly at that time that they knew their legal position, and asserted equally clearly that under no circumstances were they going to open a shop on their newly acquired premises. This left councillors disappointed and wondering what precisely their intentions were.