GOVERNMENT housing targets for Waverley up until 2032 have shot up from 519 to 590 per year, following a packed six-day public examination to test whether its draft Local Plan is “sound”.
But significantly, Inspector Jonathan Bore raised no objection to Waverley’s allocation of 2,600 new homes to Dunsfold airfield, which could be a trump card for the council’s defence at next week’s planning appeal inquiry to determine if it should have granted outline consent for 1,800 homes.
Despite the setback, campaign group Protect Our Waverley (POW), which is fighting the airfield housing scheme, said it “remained confident” the application would be rejected at appeal.
A further obstacle to building thousands of new houses now required was also removed at the examination, at its council offices when Waverley announced last Thursday, on the final day, that the upcoming judicial review had been cancelled to test the legality of granting outline consent.
In a further dramatic twist, questions were raised about Mr Bore’s suitability to scrutinise Waverley’s local plan, after it emerged he signed off the refurbishment of London’s Grenfell Tower. Police have now launched a criminal investigation into the fire that claimed at least 80 lives.
Previously, Mr Bore was executive director for planning and borough development for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, signing off details of the tower block’s 2015 refurbishment, including external cladding blamed for the spread of the inferno.
Responding to concerns, a Planning Inspectorate spokesman said: “Inspectors play an important role in examining local plans impartially and publicly. Jonathan Bore is an experienced and capable inspector. The Planning Inspectorate has full confidence in his ability to examine Waverley Borough Council’s local plan, ensuring it is sound.”
Setting the increased targets, Mr Bore said: “Housing requirements need to address the serious problem of lack of affordable housing in the borough.”
Mr Bore told the council the higher figure also included taking 50 per cent of Woking’s unmet housing need, as it is the “least constrained” authority between Woking, Guildford and Waverley to make up the numbers required by the three authorities.
Waverley’s head of planning Liz Sims said: “We fully recognise the benefit of an adopted plan as a better position to resist speculative, inappropriate developments in the borough. But some changes are not welcome, particularly the uplift required to meet Woking’s unmet need.”
The council will now launch a public consultation on the proposed modifications Mr Bore advised before re-submitting them.
The inspector will then produce a report indicating any further modifications to enable it to be adopted.
Welcoming Mr Bore’s comments, a Waverley spokesman said: “The Inspector’s view is clearly helpful to the council’s case at the public inquiry. Waverley will be submitting Mr Bore’s expressed view on Dunsfold from the local plan public hearings to the public inquiry inspector.
“The council and POW have both submitted their evidence and it is now for the public inquiry to determine the application.”
The Dunsfold Park inquiry starts at Waverley’s Godalming offices on Tuesday, and is scheduled to last 12 days. Dunsfold Park chief executive Jim McAllister said: “We have noted the remarks of the inspector, and agree the development of Dunsfold Aerodrome is a sustainable approach.
“As a large brownfield site Dunsfold Aerodrome can make a positive contribution to meeting Waverley’s housing needs.
“The development of the aerodrome will provide a range of homes for families wishing to live in the borough, including affordable, and will direct development away from green fields, create new jobs and deliver a range of new community facilities and infrastructure improvements.”
Guildford and Waverley Friends of the Earth planning expert Kathy Smyth said: “Inspector Bore’s comments relating to Dunsfold Park have taken many people by surprise.
“But I think they bring some much needed clarity to the current situation. Its inclusion as a strategic site in the local plan will represent a significant shift in favour of a large mixed use development now going ahead at Dunsfold at some point.
“Whatever Inspector Bore may have said about not anticipating the outcome of the inquiry into the planning application, in reality his comments appear to have moved the goalposts at a very late stage towards Waverley Borough Council and Dunsfold Park.
“This is because a large part of the opponents’ case rests on the outcome of the local plan not being known at the planning application inquiry – the so-called ‘prematurity’ argument.
“They also seem to have been counting on Inspector Bore to support the argument the site was inherently unsustainable. Both these arguments now appear to me to be very seriously undermined.”
A spokesman for the 11 councils fighting the plan, said: “The inquiry will provide the opportunity for a robust and detailed examination of the application for 1,800 houses and extensive additional industrial space.
“Mr Bore endorsed the inclusion of Dunsfold Park in the local plan because he saw no viable alternative way to provide for the increase in house building demanded. He did not assess the details of the proposal.
“We remain confident the planning application will be rejected.”