COUNCILLORS have decided to defer a decision on a new visitor centre for Thomas Hardy’s birthplace after hearing objections from local residents.
Members of Dorset County Council’s planning committee heard that those living near the proposed visitor centre at Higher Bockhampton had concerns about the scale of the development, feared traffic congestion and compared the plans to a ‘theme park’.
The National Trust and Dorset County Council have been working to develop the visitor centre to serve the cottage and surrounding Thorncombe Wood in a project that will see £1million invested in the area.
They are currently waiting on a £495,000 bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund.
At the planning meeting councillors heard from Paul Thomas, who lives on the same lane as the cottage and who raised concerns about the scale and tone of the plans put forward in the Lottery Fund bid, which had not gone before members.
Mr Thomas said: “I have seen the Heritage Lottery Fund application, it is a blue print for a theme park.”
He added: “Some of you may think Disneyfication of our home environment is just the thing.”
His views were supported by resident Hugh Grenville-Jones and Stinsford Parish Council chairman George Armstrong.
Mr Armstrong said the parish council was not against the principle of a visitor centre but said it could be located in a less obtrusive position and be smaller. He added: “The heart of our objection is the people who live and experience the conditions of that area will be adversely affected.”
Karen Taylor, head of land use planning for the National Trust, spoke in support of the application and claimed it did not envisage a significant increase in visitor numbers to the site.
She said: “The main purpose is to provide basic visitor facilities at the property where they are currently sadly lacking. We have frequent complaints about the lack of toilets and basic catering facilities.
“The facility is therefore intended to alleviate current problems rather than to develop the property into a greater attraction.”
Members agreed to defer a decision on the application until they make a site visit on November 23.
Councillor Les Ames said: “If this is going to be a site of importance it must be considered carefully and thoughtfully. I would not be prepared to make a decision until we have visited the site.”