A government planning inspector has been accused of completely disregarding the wishes of local people and opening the door to speculative development by waving through plans for 65 homes on a greenfield site off Hale Road.
The decision, made by the Planning Inspectorate despite significant opposition from local residents and clear conflicts with local planning policy, has sparked fears about the future of other greenfield sites in the Farnham area and across Waverley borough.
The so-called ‘Hawthorns’ proposal, put forward by Mr and Mrs A Lifford and Stax Group Ltd, was initially rejected by Waverley councillors because of concerns over its location in an area deemed unsuitable for development in the Farnham Neighbourhood Plan and Waverley Local Plan, and specifically its impact on the landscape character of the area.
However, after an appeal, inspector Tim Wood gave the green light for the development, ruling Waverley was even shorter of government housing targets than it claimed – able to demonstrate only a 3.46 year supply of housing land, short of the 4.9 years claimed by Waverley and the five years required by the government – rendering local policy out of date.
The inspector did acknowledge the development, backing on to Grade I-listed Farnham Park, would harm the local landscape, much of which he said would become “a section of built townscape rather than countryside”.
But he also cited “notable benefits” of the development that he said were “not significantly outweighed by the adverse impacts”.
These include the provision of new homes and the creation of employment opportunities during the construction phase.
He added the development would provide affordable housing, contribute to the local economy and enhance the area’s biodiversity.
However, writing in today's Herald, Councillor Carole Cockburn (Conservative, The Bourne) voiced her intense frustration at the decision, accusing the inspector of redesignating the land for housing with “no evidence other than his own opinion”.
She also accused Waverley of “letting Farnham down”, stating the delay in delivering a complete and up-to-date Local Plan and the borough’s failure to maintain a five-year supply of housing sites had “endangered the character of every settlement”.
She noted Farnham had enjoyed two years of protection from housing targets under the National Planning Policy Framework after the adoption of the town plan, but that protection had expired, and developers were now exploiting this.
“What is the point of localism?” she asked, saying she would “yet again” be taking up the matter with Jeremy Hunt, and reiterating her hope that national planning reforms anticipated this year will give more protection to areas with Neighbourhood Plans in place.