Waverley Borough Council hopes to arm itself with a “much more persuasive case” against unwanted development after agreeing to a full revision of its 11,000 home masterplan.
Opponents who hoped for a quicker fix said identifying land for thousands of homes for the next 20 years would leave residents facing years of “considerable angst”.
The council has agreed to fully revise its planning bible and carry out an assessment of housing needs up to 2043.
It agreed to move forward with a new plan after legal opinion emphasised that it would give them “a much more persuasive case to place before appeal inspectors – and in considering its own planning applications”.
Introducing the proposals to the July 18 full meeting of Waverley Borough Council was the portfolio holder for planning Councillor Liz Townsend.
She said: “The Local Plan Part One was now more than five years old and has to be reviewed.
“It was decided it needed updating, immediately to make it broadly compliant – as well as a more comprehensive update to create a single Local Plan.”
The council currently operates a parent Local Plan Part One and a ‘daughter’ Part Two document that together set out land for a minimum 11,210 additional homes in the borough through to 2032.
But earlier this month, an appeal inspector – in overturning Waverley's refusal of 146 homes in Waverley Lane, Farnham – told the council it was roughly 32 per cent short of its Five Year Housing Land Supply target, with sites for up to 1,300 more homes needed to get back on track.
The council had considered a partial revision to address housing shortfall but the meeting was told all advice, from officers and the government's Planning Advisory Service, was that this would just create further problems – due to conflicts with national policy.
Cllr Townsend said “it is critical we carry out an update of local housing need”, despite the “considerable constraints across the borough, whether that be green belt, areas of outstanding natural beauty or other landscape designations.”
She said: “It is clear from the officer’s report that it would be an uphill, and no doubt futile battle, to convince an inspector that a partial update, with an end date of 2032, would meet the requirements.”
This point was hammered home earlier this year when a planning inspector slammed Waverley Borough Council for having “little concrete evidence” to demonstrate a credible housing strategy.
A partial update, Cllr Townsend said, was against national guidelines that stated strategic policies should cover minimum 15 year period.
The quick-fix option she said would be “contrary to our officers’ advice, the advice of the local government’s Planning Advisory Service, and their consultants.
“They consider the pitfalls of a partial or broadly compliant update have probably been understated and a comprehensive update is likely to be the only feasible approach.
“It would be extremely difficult to limit, or justify, a partial update concentrating on housing supply matters only, given the wider implications of the local plan to the critical balance we need to make between development and our environment.”
She told the committee they were also “acutely aware” of the limitations of “our infrastructure” particularly water and sewerage which we know has suffered from a lack of investment and oversight.
The councillor added: “We owe it to our residents, and to future generations, not to try to put sticking plasters over this plan, but to plan properly and to use all the levers that are available to use to make sure that our borough, its residents, and our environment can thrive together.”
But Cllr Peter Martin, leader of the Conservative opposition group on Waverley Borough Council, said they took a “rather different view”.
The option preferred by the opposition was for the partial alteration of the plan in order to address housing supply and related matters.
He said that in February, it was raised that the council should undertake a swift update to its Local Plan, as had been done by councils including Woking and Northamptonshire.
A full review would “take longer and is more complex” he told the committee and “takes the proposed timelines out to 2043, some 20 years away”.
Cllr Martin added: “The longer the time, the longer time period, the more sites that will need to be identified, and as we all know the selection of more sites for building comes with considerable angst and difficulty and we could avoid some of that.
“A comprehensive review takes a long time.
“The administration says it would take four years with adoption in 2027, it’s likely in my view to take longer.”
“The existing plan he said took nine years” and says embarking on a lengthy comprehensive review during the uncertainty to government changes would add additional challenges.
He said: “A more rapid and limited exercise is what is needed.”
Dismissing suggestions there was an actual choice on the table, borough leader Cllr Paul Fellows said: “A swift update, a partial update, a short update, an agile update, I'm trying to think of all of the various synonyms that we heard for a version the wasn’t really doing the whole job, that nether officers, members, the planning advisory service, or indeed the law suggest that we should do.”
The decision to carry out a full revision of the local plan was passed by 35 votes to nine.