Imminent reforms to national planning policy could put an end to unrealistic housing targets and give towns like Farnham more protection from speculative development. But can they come in fast enough to save Farnham’s green spaces? The race is on, says Tory councillor for The Bourne, CAROLE COCKBURN...
The lack of a completed Local Plan over the past four years and the consequent failure of Waverley Borough Council to maintain a credible supply of housing land has left Farnham in dire straits.
Up to 2020, the Farnham Neighbourhood Plan gave the town added protection under current government guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). But now the town is under siege from speculative development, with appeal after appeal being lodged with the Inspectorate.
At long last, the campaigning on housing numbers and more protection for towns like Farnham, with proactive neighbourhood plans, has paid off. The government has not only listened but also acted! The long-awaited consultation on revisions to the NPPF is under way and, ultimately, it could be great news for Farnham.
However, it all comes down to timing.
Local Plan Part 2 is almost at the point of adoption. The borough is consulting on a series of main modifications and waiting for the final report from the Inspector. If this report is favourable, as the borough predicts, there will be a complete Local Plan and the borough can begin to regain control of local planning decisions.
However, Local Plan Part 1 must be reviewed in February 2023, as it has been in place for five years.
A review has to be thorough but does not require enormous change, if the strategic policies remain compliant with national guidance. Evidence must be provided for any decision made on updating the plan.
If the borough decides to alter its strategy at this point, all neighbourhood plans and the newly-made Local Plan Part 2 will be rendered out of date immediately. Neighbourhood plans must be in broad conformity with the borough’s strategy and, if this changes, all neighbourhood plans across the borough will be sent back to the drawing board.
The changes proposed in the NPPF remove the need to maintain a five-year housing land supply, if the borough has an up-to-date Development Plan. The housing targets will become advisory and the period of protection for made neighbourhood plans will be extended to five years.
The idea is to put communities at the heart of the planning system and give them a greater say in what is built and where but there is an inevitable delay before any changes come into force.
In the meantime, the town council and other groups and individuals have written to the secretary of state, asking him to recover the appeal at Hawthorns off Hale Road, the first speculative site to be determined. An application on this site has already been dismissed by a previous secretary of state.
The borough’s towns and parishes need a light-touch review of Local Plan Part 1, to enable local Plan Part 2 and all current neighbourhood plans to play their part within the Development Plan.
In five years’ time a fuller review of the whole plan will enable a more streamlined approach but this is the wrong time to put the future of the borough into prolonged uncertainty. Enough damage has been done.