The Surrey Hills Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty (AONB) board has slammed plans to build 110 homes at The Royal Junior School site in Hindhead as a “major development” that would cause “harm” to the AONB.

The AONB board has previously objected to Waverley Borough Council’s allocation of 90 homes at the Royal Junior site in its Local Plan Part Two planning blueprint.

But despite raising these concerns, no AONB representative was invited to the Local Plan hearing last year to explain its concerns – and the site was controversially included in the final plan, adopted in March. 

Surrey Hills AONB board has now formally objected to the planning application for an even larger development of 110 homes submitted by CALA Homes, adding its name to the now considerable list of objectors.

A sticking point is whether the application constitutes ‘major development in the AONB’. National planning policy states major development in a AONB should be refused “other than in exceptional circumstances”.

In its formal objection notice, the Surrey Hills AONB board criticised Waverley Borough Council’s view that 90 homes on the site, let alone 110, was not a ‘major development’ – saying this was “extraordinary and seems inconsistent with other decisions in the country relating to ‘major development’”. 

Waverley – which is under pressure to find more housing sites to meet government targets – does not currently consider the 90-home Royal School development allocated in its Local Plan as a major development. But the AONB is urging the council to re-evaluate this view.

The Royal Junior School plan (pictured) has been mired in controversy since its conception. When Waverley refused planning permission for 50 new homes at Red Court in Scotland Lane, Haslemere, in 2021, the Royal Junior site was proposed as an alternative.

AONB advice was that provided there was no development at Red Court, a “limited residential scheme” of 50 dwellings on the Royal School site would be acceptable in the Surrey Hills. But after a government planning inspector overturned Waverley’s Red Court refusal, developments of 50 homes at Scotland Lane and potentially another 110 at the Royal Junior site are tabled on AONB land in the area – 110 more than the Surrey Hills AONB recommended.

Waverley planning portfolio holder Liz Townsend said the Royal Junior School site “offers an opportunity to deliver much-needed new housing to meet government housing targets”. 

She added: “The council must assess the current planning application against the adopted Local Plan policy, and any development will be brought forward subject to the successful relocation of the school and a range of criteria to ensure a high-quality development. This will include an opportunity for the community to make representations.”