In his latest Bricks & Mortar column for the Herald, David Howell looks at ongoing traffic problems in Farnham town centre, changes in staff at the Waverley planning department, updates on planning appeals, and news about the delayed opening of a new branch of Megan's in Farnham.
I stare in bewilderment at the almost continuous gridlocking of the town centre. South East Water have questions to answer, closing West Street as they have.
The retailers, having survived Covid and the uncertainty of Brightwells, not to mention the increased proportion of business going to internet suppliers, are struggling.
I reported the first half of 2023 was going to be challenging. I had no idea how much so. What will it be like when Highways resurface the roads? When the proposals included in the Farnham Infrastructure Plan are implemented?
Someone needs to have carefully considered all the issues affecting the town centre and the surrounding areas. That person needs to be someone who lives here and understands how the town works.
Staff changes at Waverley
Waverley Borough Council has a new head of planning, in conjunction with Guildford of course. I would mention I do think it is a mistake sharing senior members of staff, but what do I know?
Temporary executive head of planning development Gilian Macinnes left the post within the past couple of weeks. Some decision letters had her as signatory at the end of March but you never know with Waverley.
Claire Upton-Brown, formerly from New Forest District Council, took the post as Joint Executive Head of Planning Development Place (from LinkedIn) sometime last month.
Hopefully she will give the planning department some much-needed leadership and sort out the host of issues that go back years.
During the course of the past couple of weeks the appeal inquiry hearing has taken place for the refused Bewley application at Lower Weybourne Lane. There are two more appeal hearings for residential developments starting next week, one for land at Waverley Lane and another one for a site in Badshot Lea.
Lower Weybourne Lane appeal
As with all appeals it was impossible to gauge which way the inspector will decide.
The barrister representing the council did well, her closing comments as comprehensive as I have heard in a while.
The appellant’s King’s Counsel – Bewley brought in the big guns – was annoyingly good and very confident.
Their planning consultant was pretty annoying with his continued ‘yes, sir’, ‘if it that would help, sir’, ‘I have a copy that I can share, sir’.
Bewley proposes 140 dwellings on the site to the east of the railway line.
The proposals are an over-development of the site, create coalescence between Badshot Lea and Weybourne, but do they care? Not a jot.
The site visit is next week, the decision, I would guess, in June or early July.
If this appeal is allowed and Bewley gets planning permission, I honestly think Farnham will be overrun by further residential development, 500-plus additional houses.
The inspector allowed this appeal for 65 dwellings at Hawthorns which is accessed off Hale Road opposite the allotments near the BP garage.
Those who attended the hearing, which was supposed to be two days but was wrapped up in less than one, felt the hearing was a tick-box exercise only.
I have submitted a complaint to the Inspectorate from which I have received an acknowledgment but no response. Farnham Town Council has also raised concerns.
Another appeal decision we are waiting for is at Summerfield Cottage in Runfold for 30 houses. But the story is less simple.
It relates to the farcical decision by Waverley at this site – just one of many, I hasten to add, but the others are for another time.
Here, despite several letters – including one from Farnham Town Council – alerting the planning officers to extensive business activity taking place on the Summerfield Cottage site and two large storage buildings being built without planning permission, the officers issued a Certificate of Lawfulness for the whole site for residential use.
The officer visited on January 14, 2022, but somehow failed to either take notes or leave the notes with the council when he finished working for them. Yes, I know!
A senior manager has confirmed with reference to the businesses that “the test to be satisfied is based on the ‘balance of probabilities’” (rather than satisfaction beyond reasonable doubt). You couldn’t make it up! See the photographs above.
She continued: “With reference to enforcement matters [the two large storage buildings], I understand the planning enforcement team are aware of the two buildings within the site and consideration is ongoing into this matter.”
The buildings have been there for, I would guess, at least three years now, the planners seeing them on their website aerial views for two years.
So what do the enforcement staff get up to? Do they do anything? What have they been doing about Brightwell House? The roofing works must have been completed at least a year ago.
I learnt last week that Megan’s have pushed back the proposed opening of their Farnham branch from October to December.
I will catch up with the marketing manager during the summer and give you the lowdown.