YOU might imagine that releasing a piece of farmland for use by the public would go down pretty well locally.

But things are not that simple when it comes to an important patch of green space at Talbot Village, near Poole’s boundary with Bournemouth.

Plans to create a “heathland support area”, to take pressure off the ecologically sensitive Talbot Heath, have run into controversy.

The issues at stake are not only about nature and the environment. They also involve future plans to encourage cutting-edge businesses dealing in anything from visual effects to driverless cars or appliances that connect to the internet.



Bournemouth Echo:

The site of the proposed heathland support area

The issue in front of planners at BCP Council now is a plan to change the use of 12 hectares of land – from farming to a “heathland support area”.

The site in question is a 1.3km (0.8 of a mile) wedge of farmland between sections of Talbot Heath, owned jointly by BCP Council and Talbot Village Trust.

According to the planning application, the move would create an “alternative area for recreation to divert pressures off the heath, as well as space to support the heath through biodiversity gains”.

Concerns over farmland plans in Talbot Village

No development would take place and the plan would create informal space. The application says “the most important objective is to make the land publicly accessible, and at its simplest this means opening the gates and advertising the access onto the land no longer constitutes trespass”.

There would, however, be a series of measures to “make the land more attractive for recreational use, help support the heath and improve biodiversity”.

Objectors to the scheme cite a couple of key concerns.

The first is the loss of farmland. East Dorset Friends of the Earth has said: “The area should continue as working farmland. This is important for the benefits to the natural habitat and for health and wellbeing of us all as it provides a relaxed area for observing the grazing animals and shows youngsters where our food comes from.”

The second objection, however, relates to something that is not in this application at all.

That is the Talbot Innovation Quarter – not just a business park, but a development dedicated to the creative and digital industries. It is earmarked for an adjacent site – and the Poole Local Plan makes it clear that the Innovation Quarter depends on creating the heathland support area.



Bournemouth Echo:

Bournemouth's universities and surrounding area in 2019

The Poole Local Plan, adopted in 2018, talks about three key areas in Talbot Village.

TV1 is the Talbot Academic Quarter – the campuses of the two Bournemouth universities and the adjacent land, including around 400 metres of “buffer” around Talbot Heath that “may be suitable for housing”.

TV3 is Talbot Heath, where the heathland support area is intended to relieve the pressures caused by recreational use of the protected heath.

In between is TV2, the Talbot Innovation Quarter. “Highmoor Farm and surrounding land is identified as having potential to bring forward development where creative and digital industries can cluster close to the universities as part of an innovation quarter,” says the Local Plan.

“This area has the potential to provide grow-on space for the universities, space for business start-ups or for new industries to develop and flourish.”

It adds: “Development within the Highmoor Farm area should reflect the specialist courses provided by the universities, to support innovation and provide employment and research opportunities to retain highly skilled graduates within the local economy.”

The skills taught at those universities have fed into film and television (producing Oscar-winning visual effects for films, for example), the enormously valuable video games industry, the fashion sector and a host more.

The Local Plan says business use at the Innovation Quarter should focus on information technology, creative and digital, environmental technologies and biomedical or healthcare, such as a private hospital or care home.

“To ensure that the proposed growth does not cause harm to Talbot Heath, the vision requires the provision of a heathland support area to deflect recreation pressures from the heath,” says the plan.

“Even with the delivery of the heathland support area, individual proposals across the allocation may need further Habitats Regulations Assessment to confirm their acceptability before planning permission can be granted.”



Bournemouth Echo:

Gordon Fong of Kimcell

Last year, BCP Council approved a “digital exchange” at Highmoor Farm.

It was housed in a “dilapidated” barn and a BCP planning manager said it “tiptoed around the boundaries” of what would even require planning permission.

But the exchange is potentially very significant for the town’s creative, digital and technologies.

More than 100 objections to IT building planned close to Talbot Heath

Controversial digital exchange approved for Talbot Village

Put simply, the exchange is about delivering faster internet to businesses and the universities – but Gordon Fong of Kimcell, the company which provided it, says it’s about much more than that.

“The digital exchange is all about the potential it brings for the future,” he says.

“There’s this huge infrastructure which is going to be very necessary in the future.”

His business has already connected Talbot Village to the Dorset Innovation Park at Winfrith, where his company also has a site.

This is the connectivity that would serve businesses at the Innovation Quarter.

It seeks to handle more data in Dorset rather than have it transported to other parts of the world. This enables “edge computing” – which is all about bringing data closer to the location where it’s used, saving bandwidth and improving processing power.

All this helps feed data-hungry applications – whether that means rendering the scenes created for video games or visual effects, or the 5G innovations that will see everything from fridges to driverless cars connected to the internet. The latter fits in with BCP Council’s aspiration to create a ‘smart place’ that would show other areas the potential of digital tech.

Smart Place investment plan announced by BCP Council

A lot of digital businesses are already seeing the advantages in moving from London to Dorset, Mr Fong says. “They have seen Dorset as a great place to be based, but also as a place where we’re away from London yet not really out in the sticks of the south west,” he adds.

“We’re ideally placed to create this kind of niche.”



Bournemouth Echo:

Cattle released on Talbot Heath last year

Objectors to the proposals for Highmoor Farm know they face an uphill struggle.

All these policies were adopted in the Poole Local Plan in 2018, so applications that comply with that plan are set for approval.

Nick Dobbs, who runs the 950-member Facebook group Preserve Talbot Heath, said in his objection to the heathland support area application: “By virtue of being earmarked in the current Poole Council Plan, BCP Council, Talbot Village Trust and both universities are vested stakeholders with the same objective in wanting to see HIghmoor Farm developed into a business park.”

He says online meetings about the plans have “essentially been an opportunity for Talbot Village Trust to brief the forum of their unwavering intentions on a need-to-know basis”.

He argues that the Highmoor Farm application does not include a survey of protected species, and he wants further scrutiny including biodiversity studies.

Simon Trueick, director of planning at Talbot Village Trust’s planning consultancy Intelligent Land, says the scheme complies with policy and that locals have been consulted at a series of meetings.

“The Local Plan has gone through several public consultation stages before it was fully adopted by the council. From the trust’s perspective, we’re fulfilling the requirements of the Local Plan policy,” he says.

He notes that the trust sent out 4,000-5,000 leaflets about the Highmoor Road plan and received 160 questionnaires back.

“It’s actually not a bad response for that type of survey and the information we received was really beneficial. That was looking at how people use Talbot Heath, how regularly they used it, what activities they undertook, where they were coming from and what they would like to see within the heathland support area,” he said.

“The trust also undertook regular monthly briefing meetings with the local residents’ associations – the Talbot and Branksome Woods Residents Association and the Talbot Village Residents Association – and the Protect Talbot Heath Group.”

Meetings, he said, had been “pretty good-natured”, even though they did not always produce a consensus.

As for when the Innovation Quarter might happen, he says: “There’s no timetable for the Innovation Quarter to be developed but quite clearly, as we come out of the Covid crisis and we’re in an economy starting to pick up, the trust wants to be in a position to assist the local economy.”

He believes the impact of the pandemic may have accelerated the demand for the kind of tech-based businesses that would occupy the Innovation Quarter.

“The trust and the council have no interest in making this an average industrial park,” he says.

“It’s got to be the state-of-the-art location and that will be controlled through the subsequent planning application.”