WAVERLEY Borough Council’s planning committee defied officer recommendation on Tuesday by voting to refuse the 50-home Red Court application in Scotland Lane, Haslemere.
But what proved most telling was councillors and officers butting heads during the fiery debate – with calls for councillors to be reprimanded, and officers told to wait their turn.
Farnham Residents councillor Jerry Hyman led the calls for refusal, expressing concerns over the lack of an “appropriate” environmental assessment – despite officers’ protests that one was completed.
His address to officers led to criticism from Zac Ellwood, Waverley’s head of planning, who called for Cllr Hyman to be pulled up on his “rather aggressive approach”.
Lib Dem councillor for Badshot Lea, Daniel Hunt, also weighed in on the debate, recognising councillors “can’t discount the fact 500 people have objected to this site”.
But Tory councillor for The Bourne in Farnham, Carole Cockburn, explained borough towns such as Farnham and Cranleigh had taken a large chunk of Waverley’s housing quota – with Cranleigh having “2,000 houses on countryside beyond the green belt” – and that Haslemere residents should “take this one on the chin”.
She said: “I feel sorry for the residents of Haslemere because I think Haslemere Vision and the town council should have delivered the Neighbourhood Plan with sites – so you are open to what the borough decides, and the borough has to think about all its settlements.”
The proposal could have seen 50-homes at the site, located in the Area of Great Landscape Value (AGLV), and just a stone’s throw from Sturt Farm, where a 132-home development has been granted consent.
Haslemere mayor, and Tory councillor, Simon Dear added: “The debate as to whether we need to build on greenfield sites in Haslemere is over.
“Those who live next to this site and their allies think houses shouldn’t be build on these AGLV green fields, but built across Hindhead [at the Royal School, Farnham Lane] in an Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB), Special Protection Area and ancient woodlands – but they would say that wouldn’t they.”
Also speaking in support of the application was Tory councillor for Haslemere East Simon Dear, who praised the design of the scheme and recognised Haslemere was “miles behind” its housing quota that it needs to deliver.
He said: “Waverley has been frank in admitting at planning appeals that it has no five-year housing supply, and that failure means we as a council have little defence against developers that appeal.
“If we do refuse this, we put officers in a very difficult position of defending a decision they don’t believe in.”
But Cllr Hunt called on residents to write to their MP if they are unhappy with government housing policies and targets.
Councillors looking to back the scheme were defeated, with five councillors (Cllrs Neale, Cockburn, Dear, James and Isherwood) voting for the application, seven voting against (Cllrs Robini, Davidson, Hesse, Hyman, Hunt, Beaman and Blishen) and two abstaining (Cllrs Mirylees and Martin).
Further debate ensued over the reasons for refusal, with head of planning Zac Ellwood asking councillors to “give us your clear reasons” as officers were “working blind here”.
Cllr Dear added: “There is no point in just turning up and indulging your own prejudices, you have to have planning knowledge. If that does not exist it is going to be very embarrassing for this council at appeal.”
After discussion, councillors refused the application on the grounds that “the proposal would result in harm to the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside setting of the AONB”, contrary to the Local Plan Part One and the National Planning Policy Framework.
Town councillor Kirsten Ellis – who spoke at the meeting against the application – later tweeted: “This was an important decision for the Haslemere community and we are grateful to Waverley councillors who supported out local democracy and the principle of brownfield first. It was the right decision, and one that will be greatly supported in Haslemere.”