Battle plans are being considered to challenge the “distressing” and “confusing” decision to allow nearly 150 homes on Farnham greenfield land – although the council said it was still “too early” to discuss.
The Government’s planning inspector overturned Waverley Borough Council’s decision to refuse 146 homes on land near Old Compton Lane and Waverley Lane on the edge of Farnham's built-up boundary in July.
But the council has refused to step aside and call time on the eight-year planning dispute and instead vowed to “work alongside Farnham Town Council to seek grounds to challenge the inspector’s decision”.
The saga dates back to 2014 when Wates Developments submitted plans for 190 homes – which the council rejected.
Undeterred, the developers returned on five separate occasions, eventually succeeding on appeal following a four-day inquiry.
Planning Inspector Lesley Coffey ruled in favour of the plans as the council demonstrated a significant shortfall in the land it was able to provide for new homes.
The ruling came just weeks after the council was slammed for having “little concrete evidence” it had a credible housing strategy.
The planning inspector made the remarks as he dismissed an appeal by developers Bewley Homes over the authority’s refusal of 140 homes in Lower Weybourne Lane, Badshot Lea.
It was only because of the strength of the Farnham Neighbourhood Plan that the housing plans, on protected the green countryside gap between Weybourne and Badshot Lea, were refused.
Speaking at the August 1 meeting of the Waverley Borough Council executive meeting was deputy leader Councillor Peter Clark.
He said he wanted to say a few words about “the appeal decision made by the Government appointed planning inspector regarding Waverley Lane in Farnham”.
“Normally there is no appeal against planning inspector decisions but as a council we are taking this very seriously.”
Cllr Mark Merryweather, portfolio holder for finance, assets and property said: “The Waverley Lane appeal decision has caused an immense amount of confusion and distress to the residents of my ward.”
He added that the council was “working very very hard to try to do what we can to fix it”.
Cllr Liz Townsend, portfolio holder for planning said: “I am very much aware of the public interest in this matter and we will continue to work alongside Farnham Town Council to seek grounds to challenge the inspector’s decision on Waverley Lane.
“It would not be appropriate at this point to discuss the merits of any challenge.”
Farnham Town Council also agreed to explore a potential statutory challenge of the Waverley Lane decision at an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday.
In response to the appeal inspector’s ruling on July 3, the town council has sought independent legal counsel to evaluate the validity of the decision and explore avenues for overturning the ruling.
During an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday, council members gave the green light to instigate a High Court challenge of the decision and discuss the next steps.
The focal point of discussion revolved around whether Farnham Town Council should independently challenge the Planning Inspectorate in the High Court or forge a cross-council alliance with Waverley Borough Council for a joint legal battle.
The official documents outlining the situation have brought to light the concerns held by both the local community and the council about the potential impact of the proposed Wates Developments estate.
Town council papers state: “The local community and Farnham Town Council are very concerned by this particular decision given the landscape vale of the site abutting the Area of Great Landscape Value in an area beyond the Built Up Area Boundary.”
The site, known locally as Compton Fields, was excluded as a housing site in the Farnham Neighbourhood Plan and Waverley Local Plan. But citing local housing demand, Wates has submitted six separate applications for the site since 2014 – all of which have been rejected by Waverley.
The town council has queried the extent to which the Neighbourhood Plan policies were taken into account by the appeal inspector Lesley Coffey, who dismissed the community-led planning blueprint as “guidance” only.
And as the picturesque location is also a candidate site for inclusion in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the town council has expressed concern that not enough weight was given to this potential designation at appeal.