GREEN fields on the edge of Haslemere have been safeguarded from development – for now – after Waverley Borough Council took it out of its sites allocated for housing following residents opposition.
To the dismay of Haslemere residents, the woodland and paddocks between Red Court and Scotland Lane was proposed to accommodate 50 new homes in the Local Plan.
But in a special council meeting on Wednesday night (September 22) it was removed, with The Royal Prep School site at Hindhead added in its place.
The change has, however, met fierce opposition from an opposition Tory councillor, who claims it will set the Local Plan process back further – and potentially open the floodgates to unwanted development should the Royal School site not deliver homes soon.
Council leader Paul Follows (Lib Dem, Godalming Central and Ockford) said: “The addition will mean that Haslemere will be able to meet the required number of new houses without the need to include the Red Court site, which had been unpopular locally and was the subject of a recent planning application that was refused permission predominantly on the grounds of landscape harm.”
Somerset-based developer Redwood (South West) is appealing to the planning inspectorate after Waverley’s planning committee said in July their plans for 50 homes, including 15 affordable, would harm the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside.
At least 316 houses need to be delivered by 2032 in Haslemere, which has a population of around 17,000.
The new plan, approved two years behind schedule, suggests locations for 334.
The shortfall from Red Court is to be made up by allocating The Royal site for 90 homes, once the prep school joins the senior school in Farnham Lane.
Another change involves increasing the number of suggested dwellings at the Old Grove, High Pitfold, Hindhead, from 18 to 40.
Land in the Witley and Milford area is set to accommodate around 200 dwellings, mostly at Secretts, Hurst Farm.
Cllr Follows said this would allow for a better road infrastructure and possibly a doctor’s surgery “in an area that badly needs it”.
As of April, Godalming had already exceeded by 177 its minimum housing target of 1,520 dwellings, so no more allocations were required there.
Changes to Haslemere sites were made as a result of a public consultation between November 2020 and January 2021, to which 418 people responded.
Councillor Liz Townsend (Lib Dem, Cranleigh West) said in Wednesday’s meeting she is pleased the new version concentrates more on previously developed rather than greenfield land, and is proud the administration “is listening to views in towns and villages”.
She said she wished that the people of Cranleigh and Farnham “were also given that same opportunity to make comments on particular sites”.
She added: “It could even be argued that had [the second part of the Local Plan] gone through at its original timescale in 2019, building may have commenced on some of the sites and we would have a better position with regard to our five year housing land supply.”
Councillor Mary Foryszewski (Conservative, Cranleigh East) said Cranleigh is now “almost a concrete village because no one could see what was happening anywhere else in the borough, so they dumped it all on us”.
She said: “Many members expressed serious concerns but we still got the lion’s share, along with Farnham, because we didn’t have the protection of the local plan part one. We have that now.
“I think we need to move on and get this [part two] adopted so we can… give the whole of the borough the protection it needs.”
Cllr Follows said: “I was a backbencher when [part one] went through and it was palpable how many groups were ignored. Cllr Townsend’s disappointment was shared by a great many. Some had the courage to change their party politics as the result of this sort of behaviour, some did not.
“The general planning system is geared towards developers at every stage.
“This version is a good compromise between the needs that the planning system puts upon us and the wishes of people, particularly in Witley and in Haslemere, to have a plan that is complementary to their neighbourhood plan.”
However, speaking just two days earlier at a meeting of Waverley’s environment overview and scrutiny committee, Conservative member for The Bourne, Carole Cockburn expressed her “confusion” at plans to redraw the plan yet again.
She also warned the removal of Red Court could have dire consequences for the borough.
She added: “I do not understand what has changed, and how a local planning authority without a five-year housing land supply would take out a site that could deliver houses?”
Responding, Waverley’s head of planning Zac Elwood said: “The plan we put through last year was sound, robust and defendable. But circumstances have changed.
“The new site at The Royal School wasn’t known to us before, and is on previously-developed land.
“And we now have a clear steer from the council’s planning committee after planning permission was refused for Red Court in July.”
But Cllr Cockburn hit back, saying that “80 per cent” of The Royal Junior School site was not ‘previously developed’ as the council claims, and unlike Red Court, it is “probably undeliverable”.
She added The Royal School’s proposal to relocate its junior school provision at Hindhead to its existing site in Farnham Lane, Haslemere, was “pie in the sky” – with the school’s headteacher unable to give a firm time-scale for the move.
Cllr Cockburn, who said Local Plan Part Two would not be adopted until autumn 2022 at the earliest if the changes were allowed to go ahead, continued: “You’ve got so many knowns at Red Court, and so many unknowns at The Royal School – it all seems a little speculative.”
But the amended Local Plan was approved by 38 votes to four on Wednesday, with Cllr Cockburn (Conservative, Farnham Bourne), Steve Cosser (Conservative, Godalming Charterhouse), Jerry Hyman (Farnham Residents, Farnham Firgrove) and Anna James (Conservative, Chiddingfold and Dunsfold) voting against and Jenny Else (Conservative, Elstead and Thursley) abstaining.
Several respondents in the consultation were concerned not enough housing was being planned to meet the borough’s needs. The first part of the plan was adopted in 2018 and the council said a review, due by February 2023, will consider if housing need has changed.
The public will be given six weeks to comment on the Haslemere changes before the Local Plan is submitted to government for inspection. An inspector’s report is expected in September 2022. When the consultation opens it will be available at: https://waverley.inconsult.uk