Press Briefing

Martin Lander:


this is what I would like to have said given a bit more time:

The attraction of the Commoners Dwelling Scheme for the National Park Authority is that it can be seen to be “doing something for commoners” at no financial cost to itself. The financial costs are paid by the commoner whilst the environmental cost is born by the New Forest.

The basic flaws in the scheme are these:

This so called affordable housing scheme is not available to the poorest commoners or those in the greatest need. It is a scheme that is exclusively reserved for the wealthiest members of the commoning community.

When it comes to supporting Commoning, this scheme is pretty ineffective. At the time of its inception in 1992 the number of commoners stood at 388. By 2011 that number had grown to 623. Only 15 Commoners Dwellings have been approved in that time so of the 245 extra commoners only about 6% can be attributed to the Commoners Dwelling Scheme.

The New Forest National Park is the most densely populated National Park in the country. This makes the open spaces of this National Park all the more precious. It is immensely damaging to The New Forest to have a scheme that results in the development of its greenfield sites.

The size of a Commoners Dwelling is sensibly limited to 120 Sq Metres and they are generally made to look like a traditional forest Cottage.

However, there is no restriction of any kind on the size and design of any outbuildings.

In the case of the Commoners Dwelling approved last Tuesday the boxed section steel barn was 7 times the size of the dwelling. That is equivalent to a stack of 33 shipping containers dumped in the middle of a forest field. If someone had flytipped 33 shipping containers we would all be outraged but here the park authority has acquiesced in just such an outrage.

One aspect of this scheme that needs urgent attention is the size and design of permitted outbuildings. Whatever happened to traditional building materials Brick, Slate, Tile, Oak – Boxed section steel sheeting - its a disgrace

But what has really caused such outrage is the quite extraordinarily incompetent way in which this scheme is being administered by the National Park Authority.

Members of the Commoners Dwelling Scheme Panel receive no training, no guidance and the ones we have spoken to are completely unaware that their role is any more extensive than to certify that the applicant is a practising commoner.

It no wonder that The Commoners Dwelling Scheme Panel have failed to:

Examine whether the applicant owns the land on which they are applying.

Examine whether the applicants existing dwelling meets their housing need.

Examine whether the applicant can common from their existing dwelling.

Examine whether the applicant has access to other land from which they can common.

Examine whether the applicant meets the local qualification as specified by Policy CP11.

All of which they are required to do for the applicant to pass stage 1 but none of which has been carried out properly.

The Planning Officers were even unaware of the status of the panel, maintaining up until the end of December that the panel did make decisions and then deciding that oh no they only make recommendations.

The panel report was missing from the application. This had been pointed out since September but the mistake was only recognised the day before it was to go to committee in December. When finally produced the report was incomplete and inaccurate. These errors have been consistently pointed out but have never been acknowledged or corrected.

And then there is the composition of the panel.

It is inappropriate if not illegal that the planning officer mentoring this scheme should sit on the panel deciding it.

And Who could possibly have set up a panel the majority of whose membership is drawn from the Commoning community and whose role is to administer a scheme which is only of benefit to Commoners. It is like setting up a panel of turkeys to decide the future of Christmas.

Oh And when you ask to see the minutes of their meetings – They don't keep any! Ha!

This Commoners Dwelling Scheme Panel is not fit for purpose.

The review of the Commoners Dwelling Scheme in 2011 came up with the following finding:

Clear demonstration of the applicants need is critical to ensuring that the Scheme remains robust”. I absolutely agree.

This Scheme is of benefit to commoners in that they are able to apply for a dwelling where no one else would be considered, so long as they comply with quite strict rules. The assessment of the applicant should be carried out fairly, applying those rules. To not apply those rules or to bend them in favour of the applicant is not providing a further benefit to commoners, it is simply alienating public support, and bringing the entire Scheme into disrepute.

That is exactly where we are now. This scheme has been brought into disrepute by the National Park Authority themselves.