Waverley’s controversial plan to build 110 homes at The Royal Junior School site in Hindhead has been slapped with more objections than a court proceeding – but The Haslemere Society has a compromise which may be a plan people can finally agree to. 

The development has been contentious since its conception. When Waverley refused planning permission for 50 new homes at Red Court in Scotland Lane, Haslemere, in 2021, the Royal Junior site was proposed as an alternative.

The Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) advice was that provided there was no development at Red Court, a “limited residential scheme” of 50 dwellings on the Royal School site would be acceptable in the Surrey Hills. But after a government planning inspector overturned Waverley’s Red Court refusal, developments of 50 homes at Scotland Lane and potentially another 110 at the Royal Junior site are tabled on AONB land in the area – 110 more than the Surrey Hills AONB recommended.

The Surrey Hills AONB board slammed these plans, stating they constituted as a “major development” that would cause “harm” to the AONB. But it is not alone in voicing its objection to the plans.

Many other organisations including The Haslemere Society and Natural England have expressed concerns about the development. Despite the AONB stating the plan is a ‘major development’, Waverley do not agree, meaning the application will be determined by planning officers. 

Cala Homes' plans for the Royal Junior School site in Hindhead, as included in the developer's EIA application
Cala Homes' plans for the Royal Junior School site in Hindhead, as included in the developer's EIA application (Cala Homes)

Chris Harrison, chairman of The Haslemere Society said given “the strength of opposition to the development” it would be “unfortunate” for the decision to be made like this. He suggests an alternative plan for Waverley to consider which includes scaling the plan back to 50 homes, under the AONB’s recommendation and Amesbury School acquiring the playing fields to expand its preschool. He has asked  Waverley whether it could develop this proposal. 

“It would address The Haslemere Society’s concern about building on the non-brownfield element of the AONB land. It would not please everyone. However, it is a compromise that would give a positive result to The Royal School, the developers, and the local community, and would help Waverley meet its planning obligations.”

Waverley planning portfolio holder Liz Townsend explained the necessity of Waverley meeting “the government’s increasing housing targets” and how The Royal School is a “rare opportunity to deliver approximately 90 much needed new homes on a previously developed site which is outside the Green Belt”. 

Her full statement is as follows:

Waverley Borough Council is required to meet the Government’s increasing housing targets through allocating sufficient sites both to accommodate new homes and to boost local employment.

This is an exceptionally difficult task in a borough where approximately three quarters is covered by green belt and large swathes of countryside areas of outstanding natural beauty. Whilst meeting our targets we must rigorously observe the Government’s nationally set planning regulations in making our planning decisions and at the same time, take into consideration local polices set out in our Local Plan and Neighbourhood Plans. If we do not meet our targets, or developers fail to build as quickly as initially indicated, this exposes the borough to more speculative development on sites that are more sensitive.

The Royal Junior School site is included for housing development in the borough’s recently adopted Local Plan Part 2, because it offers a rare opportunity to deliver approximately 90 much needed new homes on a previously developed site which is outside the Green Belt. It is a very well screened site, particularly from the A3 to the West.

The site’s inclusion in LPP2 was subject to consultation and an independent examination by a Government Planning Inspector. The inspector’s report specifically noted that it is not possible to accommodate housing requirements entirely within the existing urban area. It also recognises the difficulty of finding sites, given that much of this area is within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the council must also alleviate the impacts on the nearby Wealden Heaths Special Protection Area.

The Inspector therefore supported the council’s approach, which establishes the principle of developing new housing on the site.

The site is now the subject of a planning application and subject to ongoing discussions with the developer, with a final decision yet to be made by the Councils’ Planning Committee.