Victory for town plan as housing secretary rejects Bells Piece appeal

By Daniel Gee   |   Head of Content   |
Tuesday 26th May 2020 10:28 am
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Stax Developments proposed 65 homes on land at Hawthorns, between Bells Piece Leonard Cheshire Service in Hale Road and Farnham Park ()

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THE FARNHAM Neighbourhood Plan has struck a blow against speculative development after housing secretary Robert Jenrick over-ruled a planning inspector to hammer down the authority of Farnham’s town-led planning blueprint.

The secretary of state went against a planning inspector’s recommendation and refused plans for a 65-home scheme, proposed by former Farnham Rugby Club developer Stax Developments, on land at Hawthorns, between Bells Piece Leonard Cheshire Service in Hale Road and Farnham Park.

This was after Mr Jenrick concluded the scheme’s conflict with the newly-adopted Farnham Neighbourhood Plan did not outweigh its benefits – even despite Waverley Borough Council being unable to meet the government’s requirement for a five-year housing land supply at the time of determining the appeal.

Waverley initially refused Stax’s planning application in 2018 – but it looked like this decision would be overturned after an appeal hearing in June last year.

There was a twist, however, when Mr Jenrick called in the appeal in December, and this week ruled in favour of the town plan.

In doing so, he said: “Although the local authority are still unable to demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land, the revised Farnham Neighbourhood Plan now allocates sufficient land to meet Farnham’s housing target.”

It comes after 96 per cent of voters backed the revised plan in a referendum in March, just days before going into lockdown.

Responding, instigator of the town plan, Councillor Carole Cockburn, said: “I cannot thank residents enough for their support throughout the lengthy process.

“The planning system is weighted in favour of developers but a fully up-to-date Neighbourhood Plan gives the town a chance to shape its future.

“It isn’t a silver bullet but it is the best ammunition available, as the secretary of state has clearly demonstrated in his decision.

“It was a firm endorsement of the plan and a just reward for all the hard work and resilience of everyone involved.”

Cllr Cockburn continued: “However, the plan does far more than allocate sites for development. As a result of its production, the land east of Farnham Park, to the north of the Hawthorns site, is now designated as a SANG, which means it will remain undeveloped.

“Retention of green spaces and maintenance of the character and separation of settlements are also among the aims of the plan.

“We are now updating the Farnham Design Statement, to work alongside the Farnham Neighbourhood Plan and the Farnham Conservation Area Management Plan, as we seek to preserve the visual distinctiveness of each part of our town.”

She added her “frustration” at the length of time taken to settle the appeal, caused by changes to planning guidance and legislation following the Sweetman Judgement in April 2018, which meant no Neighbourhood Plan – which allocates sites near a Special Protection Area – could proceed without a change to the wording of the legislation.

Following a series of meetings, emails and phone calls with government officials, including one call from her hotel room in Mauritius, the legislation was updated and this hurdle too was overcome.

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