The decision of the Planning Inspectorate to allow the appeal for Wates Development to build up to 146 new homes on land at Waverley Lane shows how broken the existing planning system is in the UK – and that by continually trying time after time, developers appear to eventually get their own way in the end.
In this particular case, it superficially appears the inspector had already made their decision before hearing any evidence and had not held the public inquiry with the open mind that members of planning committees are expected to have when determining planning applications.
The one thing members of planning committees are supposed to be is consistent in their decision making – yet this inspector openly admits in their report that their views are at variance with views expressed by other inspectors in other recent appeal cases.
While decisions by the Planning Inspectorate are generally the final word on any application, consideration is being given to requesting this decision be called in for review by the secretary of state.
There are, however, strict criteria under which call-ins are allowed and rarely take place.
There are five legitimate planning reasons why allowing this appeal is such a wrong decision:
1) The planning inspector did not give adequate consideration to the background to this application which, in various forms, has been refused on several previous occasions, including a Judicial Review.
2) The site is located in an area in which it is proposed to extend the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The inspector, however, dismissed this designation of AONB on the grounds this extension has not, as yet, been formally applied for. There is, however, little doubt this extension will be applied for and is highly likely to be approved. It seems very short sighted to now allow such a significant development in such an area in a rushed attempt to beat official AONB designation.
3) The Farnham Neighbourhood Plan 2020 allocated sites for development (policy FNP14) – yet the planning inspector dismissed FNP14 as being merely permissive and did not rule out developments at other locations. On this matter the planning inspector does not appear to have appreciated or even understood that Farnham’s allocated sites for development were only chosen after a rigorous and objective assessment of sites that were reviewed for development – and the Waverley Lane location was one of these sites which failed to be selected on more than one occasion.
The inspector’s statement that FNP14 is merely permissive undermines the very basis of Neighbourhood Plans on which town and parish councils can exercise the right to allocate sites for development.
4) Although the inspector accepted the location is rural in nature, their view there would be only “glimpsed views” of the development has not fully taken into account the urbanising effect of 146 homes with associated provision of roads, footpaths and cycleways requiring significant removal of trees and vegetation with consequential effects on local wildlife.
5) Finally, although this was only an outline application, experience of other recent developments casts significant doubt on whether this proposed development will result in meeting the real need that exists for providing truly affordable housing as claimed by the developer.
While it is accepted there is a need to build homes which are truly affordable, Waverley Lane is the wrong location for any such development.
With such a wrong decision, is it any wonder people have lost faith in a planning system that is clearly failing to deliver new sustainable and affordable homes in the numbers that are actually required, and that attempts to simplify the planning system has only served to line the pockets of barristers and solicitors as they argue over the interpretation of the wording of planning policy?
Farnham Town Council have arranged a meeting with a specialist planning consultant with a view to deciding whether to pursue requesting this decision is called in.
Either way, Farnham Town Council will continue to fight for the protection of the green spaces around Farnham.
By David Beaman
Farnham Town Council joint leader
Town and borough councillor for Farnham North West