Dorchester Area Community Land Trust Press Release


The old adage, "Rome wasn't built in a day," has a particular resonance, as well as a certain irony, when used with reference to DACLT's first project to build 15 flats at the bottom of West Walks in Dorchester. Four years have passed since the DACLT was established to make good use of a generous offer of land from the Town Council which lies within the oldest part of Dorchester namely the Roman town of "Durnovaria". It is precisely because the site is located above Roman Durnovaria that there's still no sign of the proverbial "man with the shovel" ! 

As Board members of the DACLT we always knew that this first site we were offered for building affordable units (the Town Council's old tennis courts in the car park at the bottom of West Walks in Dorchester) would be challenging. After all it abuts the ramparts on top of which the Romans built their wall surrounding the town of Durnovaria. However none of us had ever really noticed the "rampart effect" at this point in the Walks and we were somewhat surprised at the reaction of the archaeological authorities to any building on this site. 

Our original plan for a building comprising 19 units to rent has been modified in the light of expressed concerns, and our latest planning application (Reference WD/D/20/001242) is for a more modest building offering just 15 units and which has a noticeably smaller footprint. 

Despite our plans showing careful and considerate landscaping of the site, which would draw attention to and enhance the feature which is the Roman rampart, it appears the only way we're going to be able to satisfy Historic England, the County Archaeologist and the Dorset County Conservation officer, is to conduct an archaeological excavation of the site. Previous digs in the south west corner of the Roman town have revealed very little, if any, past evidence of there being anything of value surviving on that site save for a filled in chalk quarry. The Romans, nearly two thousand years ago, probably used the quarried chalk to build the ramparts on top of which they proceeded to build their wall. 

We've heard people comment, "Surely building for the living is more important than conserving remnants from the dead" and we fully understand the thinking behind this view. However we anticipate finding a compromise between the requirements of archaeologists and conservation officers, and the clear and urgent need to provide truly affordable accommodation in the town. 

Meanwhile we've been investigating a number of other "brownfield" sites in the town but have yet to find one whose owner is understanding enough of the desperate needs of younger working people in the town seeking a roof over their heads, to sell their land at a reduced price to ensure the "affordability" of any subsequently built residential units. 

This is the season of goodwill to all and also a season of hope for the future. The Board of the DACLT is nothing if not persistent, and despite every obstacle being placed in our way over the past four years, we will succeed in delivering our first project. ......... and many others after that. 

Alistair Chisholm and Barry Thompson

14th December 2020 

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