Waverley leader Cllr Paul Follows accused his Tory rival Cllr Carole Cockburn of pitching communities against each other last week after she told Haslemere members they needed to take their share of Waverley’s housing quota ‘on the chin’. It came after councillors dismissed plans for 50 homes at Red Court in Scotland Lane, Haslemere during a fiery meeting of the council’s western planning committee.
Councillor Paul Follows described last week’s Waverley Borough Council western planning meeting as a great victory for residents, progressive councillors and the community at large.
I thought it was a shameful display of political bias, endorsed by a leader who believes we can set aside any planning policy which we don’t happen to like.
Governments have set housing targets and delivered guidance since 1947. I have served on planning committees under Labour, Conservative and the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition and with councillors from every political party – and never has party politics raised its head in such a way during a planning meeting.
The planning system is hierarchical and beneath the central government guidance sits the local Development Plan. In that plan we have to deliver the housing targets set for us but we have the freedom to decide how and where that target should be delivered.
If a local planning authority has an up-to-date Local Plan, including Neighbourhood Plans, and can demonstrate a five-year housing land supply, it is able to defend its policies at appeal and retain control of development.
Waverley’s Local Plan Part 1 allocated housing numbers for each settlement, concentrating development on the four main settlements with limited development in the smaller ones. This decision was made with regard to the availability of suitable sites and any constraints on development in certain environmentally-sensitive areas.
This is not divisive, it is a pragmatic approach to a difficult problem and three of the four main settlements have delivered or put in place mechanisms to deliver the required dwellings.
Haslemere is the only settlement not to have done so. That is a simple fact.
Few would wish to build on any greenfield sites but all three political parties aim to build upwards of 300,000 dwellings a year and they must go somewhere. Everyone would prefer to develop brownfield sites first but they must be available.
Many brownfield sites in Waverley sit within Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or are within close proximity to a Special Protection Area and can deliver only limited development.
Even during the Labour government, finding suitable land was difficult and this led to one of John Prescott’s many amusing gaffes. As he so ineptly put it, the Green Belt is a Labour achievement and we mean to build on it!
I am not blind to the problems this quantum of housing is creating and I am no great fan of Boris Johnson. But I don’t use planning meetings to vent my spleen and I certainly would not refuse a planning application as a form of protest against government policy.
The behaviour of certain councillors, lauded by Cllr Follows, was not only inappropriate, it was unfair to the applicant and completely unreasonable.
The local planning authority has a duty to make decisions on policy grounds alone, without fear or favour.
I have lobbied our MP on dozens of occasions and made frequent visits to the past three secretaries of state for housing, communities and local government to ask them to recover appeals in Farnham.
As a result, several green fields around the town, not allocated in the Farnham Neighbourhood Plan, have been spared so far.
I also prepared Farnham Town Council’s critical responses to the proposed changes in planning and was even mentioned in Hansard as a result! I will not give up the fight to improve the system, as Jeremy Hunt well knows.
Robust local policy remains our only defence against speculative development and, until we have a completed Local Plan Part 2 and can demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land, planning applications on green fields will be allowed at appeal across the borough.
This is not the government’s fault, Cllr Follows, it is yours. You have had the responsibility for local planning for more than two years now and the development plan has not moved forward one jot.
You can try to hide the truth behind your aggressive bluster and blame everybody else for your own failures, but the facts speak for themselves.
It is not the government that is causing us to lose appeals at present, it is your negligent administration.
By Carole Cockburn
Deputy leader, Waverley Borough Council’s Conservative opposition group Councillor, Farnham Bourne
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